Too many Knox County kids go hungry over the weekend.
When I first heard of the “backpack program” for high school kids in Rockland, I thought it was an incredible idea. Simply put, the program helps lots of kids who don’t get enough to eat over the weekend at home. Every Friday, volunteers pack five meals’ worth of food in their backpacks – all privately, “behind closed doors” – so they won’t go hungry over the weekend.
It’s a very cool concept, it’s easy to manage, it’s a major success in several other Maine communities, and it doesn’t cost very much. And it’s done secretly, so kids take home good food without anyone else knowing what’s in their backpack.
Maine is 17th “hungriest” state in the country. And 1st in New England – by far.
The statistics are alarming —
- 15% of Maine households – that’s 200,000 people – are “food insecure” – there’s just not enough to eat.
- 24% of Maine’s children are “food insecure.” Nearly 1 out of 4.
- Food insecurity in Maine – hunger – has gone up 50% since 2005.
It’s worse in Knox County. Nearly half the kids are food insecure.
When I first read the hunger stats for Knox County, I could barely believe it.
- At Regional School Unit 13 here in Rockland, 59% of kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. But it seems younger kids are most at risk – at South Elementary and Rockland Middle School, the numbers are much higher.
- It’s estimated that more than half of these younger kids go hungry over the weekend.
We can fix this.
Introducing Knox Adopt a Backpack for 2015-2016
Spearheaded by Sherry Cobb, president of Rockland’s Area Interfaith Outreach (the people who operate the food pantry on Thomaston St.), Knox Adopt a Backpack officially launches this weekend. Its goal? To feed 200 kids in Rockland’s South Elementary and Middle Schools every weekend through the coming school year.
That’s about 185 meals for each child, at a total annual cost of $225 each, or about $1.20 per meal. That’s very cheap – largely because the food comes from the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, who in turn get their food either free via donations or at greatly reduced prices. And the food is good stuff – child-tested by Good Shepherd:
But it’s still $225 per kid, or $45,000 for all 200 kids in the program.
And Knox Adopt a Backpack would love to feed more kids throughout the county, but it has to start somewhere…
It’s NOT okay to have hungry kids.
When my wife and I got involved with the program, helping Sherry Cobb build the backpack website, I was appalled by all the data on hungry kids in Knox County. It’s unacceptable. It’s maddening. It shames us. There’s tons of money in this county, and tons of poverty at the same time, and precious little “trickle down” from one to the other.
Poverty and hunger inflict enormous stresses on families. When kids go hungry, the family, the neighborhood, the whole community suffers. And just to be clear about one major point that some cynics might raise: the parent(s) almost always go hungry before their kids do. They sacrifice to feed their kids.
When food-deprived kids show up at school Monday mornings, it shows. They’re tired, lethargic, cranky. Their stomachs rumble. Fortunately, they get a week’s worth of good food at school… and then comes the weekend.
So: for the costs of two dinners for two at a fine restaurant, you can feed a kid for a year. Or you can adopt half a backpack, or even less. All donations are welcome.
So there it is. Sherry Cobb, AIO, Good Shepherd – all seem to have limitless energy and commitment to ending food insecurity in Maine. My wife and I are pleased to be a small part of this. We hope you’ll be a part of it, too.