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Summit Focus on Feeding Low-Income Students on Weekends

Toby Talbot
AP Photo

Schools feed low-income children breakfast and lunch during the week. But what about on the weekends?

That’s the subject of a backpack summit taking place in Seattle today. The goal is to figure out how to send kids home with backpacks filled with food on Fridays so they can start their week at school, ready to learn.

Every week at the University Food Bank, parents from Eckstein Middle School in northeast Seattle pick up food to take back to the school. The items range from juices and cans of tuna fish to beans and snacks. They’re stuffed into backpacks, then discreetly handed out to students to take home every Friday afternoon. The packs are filled with enough for the students as well as any brothers and sisters they may have.

Joe Gruber, director of the food bank, is attending the summit. He says it is vitally important to make sure kids are getting enough nutrition.  

“The impact of poor nutrition on childhood development is lifelong, and so the greater the interventions we can [have] earlier on, the more important that is,” Gruber said. “So for us to find a new case for funding this at a city-wide level is critical, and I think the summit will begin to provide an opportunity for us to develop relationships with funders.”

There are several backpack food programs in Seattle-area schools. At the summit, food banks, parent volunteers, and school administrators will figure out ways to replicate the programs in even more buildings. Some schools have set aside space in their buildings for food pantries.  

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every four students in Washington state live in homes where meals are regularly skipped because there isn’t enough money. And even though the unemployment rate is lower than it was during the darkest days of the recession, many food banks like the one in the University District continue to serve record numbers of people.  

Gruber says if U.S. lawmakers pull the trigger on cutting $39 billion from the federal food stamp program, the demand on his nonprofit and others like it will likely double.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.