Culver students are returning to class today, and a nonprofit group is working to make sure they’re getting the proper nutrition. Blessings in a Backpack is a national organization that provides food for elementary students to take home over the weekends, when they’re not getting meals at school.
Locally, the group is beginning its fourth semester helping Culver Elementary School families, according to volunteer Dianne Johnson. “We started with 50 kids and we’re up to – last year we did 93,” she says. “And what we’re waiting on this year in Culver specifically is to get the number from the principal at the school because she and the social worker go through and figure out which kids are the neediest, because last year, they had over 200-and-some-odd kids that were eligible for free and reduced lunch.”
Once volunteers have a specific number of students, they provide food packages for students to take home each Friday. Johnson estimates it will cost about $100 to provide each student with meals for 38 weekends during the school year.
To help with the effort, Blessings in a Backpack accepts tax-deductible monetary donations. They may be given online through the national organization at blessingsinabackpack.org by listing Culver Elementary School as the recipient. Donations may also be mailed or delivered to 306 N Ohio St, Culver IN 46511.
On top of that, the group also accepts donations of food items. Johnson says Blessings in a Backpack volunteer and dietitian Tracy Fox has created a list of healthy foods that provide the most nutrition. “Rather than sending ramen noodles, which kids like but they’re so high in sodium and they’re not very nutritious, Tracy has done a great job in creating menus that provide better food choices, better quality vitamins and minerals and proteins and those sorts of things,” Johnson says. “And she knows which foods to mix with what, to maximize the nutritional value.”
Some suggested food items include fruit cups, oatmeal, cereal, soups, tuna, pudding, mac and cheese, microwave popcorn, breakfast bars, and crackers. Those interested in donating food may contact one of the group’s local organizers for more information.
Volunteers are also needed to help pack the food for distribution, which typically takes place once a month. Johnson says the distribution process makes every effort to keep recipients’ identities confidential. Blessings in a Backpack volunteers are not given the names of the recipients in Culver, with the list being kept by the school instead.
Johnson says the actual food distribution is left up to PE teacher Mike Elliott. “He’ll pick it up for a month,” Johnson says. “We pack it in tubs, and he comes with a trailer and picks up about 40 tubs of food. And then every Thursday night after the kids go home, he puts in in the lockers of the children who do receive the food. So Friday morning, they come in and the Blessings food package is already in their lockers, so again, if they don’t want anybody to know they’re accepting any food, they just stick it in their backpack, and they’re none the wiser, yet the child still has the food.”
For more information about ways to donate or volunteer, contact Tracy Fox, Stephanie Hall or Dianne Johnson.