Summer Backpack Program Puts 5,500 Meals Into the Hands of Kids

For many children, summer vacation is an exciting time. For others, it can be extremely difficult.

Often, children receive a large portion of their meals from their school. During the summer months, many kids will not have enough food to satiate themselves. This summer, Feeding America West Michigan took action by introducing the Summer Backpack Program.

During the school year, food is sent home with kids on Friday to hold them over until Monday comes around. However, during summer vacation, the kids would not have access to that service. Feeding America West Michigan sought to fix that gap. With the help of Morgan Stanley child hunger grand funding, Feeding America West Michigan was able to provide backpacks with five pounds of food inside to children throughout Ottawa County this summer. Each provided around 4 meals per recipient. The backpacks were dropped off at 3 different sites, including Allendale Meadows, Presidential estates, and Allendale Elementary.

Allendale Meadows is a mobile home park in Allendale with a high population of children at risk for food insecurity. This summer, a van full of food arrived each week. In addition to the food they received, the children were surrounded by other community resources. Life Stream Church came to their club house every week with activities planned for them and provided lunch. Allendale Public Schools in partnership with the Allendale Township Library brought the reading bus to this location weekly. All together this event helped children continue to be fed, surrounded with a sense of community, and given the means to keep their brains active throughout the summer. The Allendale Township library director, Rob Bristow said, “It’s cool how everything came together. We’ve got the school, the library, Feeding America, and Life Stream.”

Two brothers who live in Allendale meadows that came every week to receive a backpack said that this program made a difference in their lives. Steven exclaimed, “We normally eat for free at school. They serve us breakfast and lunch and then we’d have a hot pocket for dinner, or something like that. So yeah! This made a big difference.” Many other attendees had similar things to say. Lianne, a mother of two children with cerebral palsy and the daily babysitter of five neighborhood girls said that, “with being on such a tight budget there aren’t enough words to describe the gratitude that you have. I am very, very grateful for the wonderful community we live in. It makes life a lot better all the way around. Every little bit helps; this program has been wonderful.”

Presidential Estates, which was another outreach location this summer, is also a mobile home community located in Hudsonville and is the home of many high-risk kids. This summer it was a Meet Up and Eat up site. This means that there was lunch provided each week for anyone who showed up. We matched up the time of the backpack drop off so that every child who came to get a meal also had food to take home. This allowed Feeding America West Michigan to reach an even higher number of hungry children.

Throughout the summer, 1,375 backpacks full of food were put into our community, which comes to a total of 5,500 meals put into the hands of our hungry neighbors. Without this resource, many kids would have gone without. Feeding America West Michigan hopes to be able to provide this service again next year, and is committed to fighting child hunger in the region.

Story by Molly Kooi, communications intern