UWNEMN's Buddy Backpack program provides a backpack filled with nutritious, nonperishable, child-friendly food items to children who are at-risk of going hungry over the weekends due to various reasons. This program is designed to assist children that are facing hunger in our region. In today's world, more than 13 million children face hunger in the U.S. Children benefit greatly from receiving this program and have shown progress in the learning ability, attention span and less behavioral concerns at school. Currently, Buddy Backpacks is helping to fight weekend hunger by providing these food kits to more than 1,000 children between the Iron Range and in Koochiching County each Friday or holiday break from school. The program provides nourishment for food-insecure children so that they can come back to school on Monday mornings ready to learn, grow and thrive.
What is the need?
Poverty levels continue to rise throughout our service territories, with more than 47% of our children qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Teachers and school nurses have shared many stories of children returning to school Monday morning after a weekend without enough to eat. Many of these children complain of stomach cramps, headaches and dizziness. Some have a decreased attention span or lack enthusiasm to learn because they are concentrating on their hunger more than learning. While during the school week these children rely on the nutritious free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs, but the same cannot be said for weekends and school breaks. Children that are hungry are affected in many different ways:
• They suffer from iron deficiencies, affecting cognitive and physical development
• They are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school
• As teens, are five times more likely to commit suicide
Why we do it (staff survey responses)?
"I have seen Backpack Buddies really affect the lives of my students. They receive snacks on days where they otherwise would not have them, and it prevents them from going hungry on the weekends and holidays. The students smile when and get excited when they receive their backpack. No child should go hungry and by donating to United Way you can help that. It really does make a difference to many children."
"Seeing how excited one student gets every time I drop a buddy backpack off at his locker. This shows me the importance of the backpacks every week."
"Student would skip fourth hour class regularly because they were still starving from not having food at home. Even if they ate lunch, they still didn't eat enough to feel full at school. The parent thought that they had to give a ton of information to receive the backpacks and through a phone call they agreed that they would benefit from it. The student doesn't need to come in and get additional food after lunch anymore."
"I have had a student receive their first buddy backpack. They didn't realize they were getting it every week so the following week when there were distributed, they said it was someone else's turn."
"I truly think it helps the families of these students with their at home life. Having even a few extra snacks for the weekend I'm sure helps immensely with bigger families."
"I believe our biggest impact was on a single parent family who has 5 kids. She was hesitant to accept at first but after I believe it took a huge weight off."
"The students that receive it and truly need it are very grateful."
"Students who struggle to find food at home that they can make and eat find it very nice to be able to have food over the weekend. Some student's use it as snacks and lunches at the school too if they don't eat it all over the weekend. It takes away the fear of if they will get to eat."
Who we serve:
UWNEMN relies on volunteers to help us pack more than 30,000 food kits for local children at-risk of hunger. Volunteering to pack Buddy Backpacks is a great individual opportunity and is also a perfect team-building experience, and packing is now open to volunteers ages 12 and up - click here for open volunteer dates.
We also need your support at any level to fund the program. Sponsoring one child for the year costs $280 - just over $23 per month! Click here to donate online, designate through payroll deduction at your workplace, or send donations to UWNEMN, 608 East Drive, Chisholm, MN 55719.
Thanks to our generous donors...
Summer Buddy Backpacks is available for all children ages 0-18 during the summer! Each Thursday, these weekend meal kits are distributed at the Meet Up and Chow Down sites across the region June - August.
If your workplace or organization would like to take on the Summer Buddy Backpacks distribution at a Meet Up and Chow Down site this summer, please contact UWNEMN Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton at 218-254-3329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.