Hungry for more help

Lori Glascock holds a backpack used in the Warren County Backpack Program. During the school year, the program sends food home with hungry children to supplement meals over the weekend. During the summer, parents can pick up food each week at area distribution locations. Josette Keelor/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — When thinking about what they might donate to hungry children, everyone thinks of peanut butter. But program chair Lori Glascock said there’s a lot more that goes into a child’s meal.

The Warren County Backpack Program collects nonperishable items to send home with elementary and middle school students on weekends, with the goal of providing nutritious options that offer variety and are easy for children to prepare themselves while their parents are at work.

Carbohydrates like cereal and snacks like pudding cups are essential items that frequently find their way into backpacks each week. But sources of nonperishable protein can be more difficult for those who don’t know what’s out there.

In addition to peanut butter, she recommended beans, canned meats and fish or store bought meat sauce for spaghetti. Likewise, shelf-stable milk and Carnation breakfast powder are some drinks people might not think to contribute.

Preferring 100 percent juice and milk options, Glascock said cheap doesn’t have to mean unhealthy.

During the school year, the Backpack Program sends home meals on Fridays with elementary and middle school students. The food, which children share with their families, offers two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, two snacks and two drinks per elementary or middle school child.

In the summer, portions increase to three per child because they include Fridays.

One in five children nationwide come from households struggling to put food on the table, amounting to 16 million children, Glascock said.

The Backpack Program, known as Backpack Buddy through some contributing organizations, fed 350 children and their families during the 2013-14 school year, providing 52,000 meals.

After expanding to the summer last year, she estimated that number rose to 64,000 meals for the year.

“When school’s out, [children] lose that food source,” Glascock said.

Those who qualify for the Backpack Program also qualify for free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch during the school year. Parents can sign up their children at any point during the school year, which Glascock said benefits families that fall on hard times following a life change like divorce, illness or the loss of a job.

Warren County’s hunger rate is below the state average of 12 percent, but it’s still 9.7 percent, she said.

“There are teachers that tell us they recognize they have children coming into school who are hungry,” Glascock said.

Children who aren’t hungry do better in school and aren’t sick as often as they might be otherwise.

“All of those things add up to better educational experiences for them,” she said.

During the summer, community organizations pitch in to help students she said stay in town rather than visiting with friends, grandparents or other extended family.

Monday to Thursday, the Summer Feeding Program serves lunches at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, and the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department opens its 15th Street complex for the packaging of food.

Samuels Library on E. Criser Road, the Front Royal Volunteer Fire Department on Commerce Avenue and Buckton Presbyterian Church on Strasburg Road host distribution locations where parents can pick up weekend meals for their children.

When it comes to hunger, Glascock said education is key. Too many parents struggling to pay for food think fast food is cheaper than buying and making food at home.

But for $1, the Backpack Program feeds four people with items donated through the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Volunteers spend time finding great deals at area stores and use coupon-clipping skills to bolster results.

Posting their findings on Facebook, Glascock said, “They’ve got it down to an art.”

Education extends to volunteers, too, who might incorrectly think they don’t have time to contribute.

All that’s needed for a team to pack 250 backpacks is 30-40 minutes, she said.

“It’s that little bit of time per week that does so much,” she said. “It goes a long way.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

For details visit, https://www.facebook.com/warrencountybackpackprogram