Policy Name: Backpack Program, Merrimack Valley, New Hampshire
Overview: Through a collaboration among the Merrimack Valley School District (MVSD), the Friends Program Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and Friends of Forgotten Children (FOFC), students from low-income families in the Merrimack Valley School District are able to take home meals they can eat over the weekend, when they might otherwise have little or nothing to eat.
Location: Merrimack Valley School District, NH
Food Policy category: Food insecurity
Program goals: To provide weekend meals for low-income students.
How it works: Volunteers fill backpacks with healthy food for students to take home on Fridays. Each one contains three dinners, two breakfasts, two lunches, and two snacks that include fruit, vegetables, protein, calcium, and limited sugar. The MVSD provides input on potential student participants and on foods to include, the RSVP provides volunteers, and the FOFC provides space to fill and store the bags along with a volunteer to manage finances. The food is often donated by local grocers or purchased at a reduced cost through connections to the New Hampshire Food Bank, but the monthly cost still amounts to approximately $1,500. Monetary donations from community members are requested to help continue the program.
Progress to date: The Backpack Program was instituted in 2017 by Principal Chris Foley at the Penacook Elementary School. In June 2018, the Globe Community Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awarded a $2,000 grant to sustain the program through the school year. In its first year, 30 students at the elementary school participated in the Backpack Program. In the second year, 44 more students from Boscawen and Salisbury Elementary Schools were added to the program. The goal of the program coordinators is ultimately to include low-income students from all MVSD schools.
Why it is important: Many students from low-income families participate in free and reduced-price school meal programs to make sure they eat a healthy breakfast and lunch on days they are in school. However, over the weekend, many of these children will not have access to a full meal and will remain hungry until they have breakfast at school on Monday morning. In Merrimack County in 2019, 28 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and 10 percent live in poverty. The Backpack Program supports low-income families by providing nutrition for those days when they would otherwise go hungry.
Program/Policy Initiated: The program began in 2017 at the Penacook Elementary School.
Point of contact:
Similar Practices: Backpack programs that provide weekend meals for low-income students exist in various forms throughout the country. Examples of other programs include those from:
Evaluation: Parents of participating students have provided positive feedback on the program and have expressed their gratitude for being able to benefit from it. One parent was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying, “Makes me have peace of mind knowing that he will have that bag every Friday when we are running low on food.” Due to the program’s success and positive feedback, coordinators would like to expand the program to additional schools as resources allow.