Food insecurity among students addressed by IVFB Weekend Backpack Program
IMPERIAL – For many Imperial County students, school breakfasts and lunches are their main source of nutritious food.
Data from the state’s Department of Education showed about 75 percent of students enrolled in Imperial County public schools during the 2022-2023 school year were eligible for free or reduced cost meals.
Unfortunately, many students may not know where their next meal will come from once they leave school over the weekend. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Although food insecurity may be a temporary situation for some families, for others working paycheck to paycheck each month, it is a consistent struggle in their daily lives.
As a result, Imperial County has the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in California.
The Imperial Valley Food Bank (IVFB) is working to remove the barrier of hunger that contributes to poor school performance by increasing access to nutrition outside of school through the Weekend Backpack program.
“The food is really good,” shared Esmeralda, a local student who participated in the program last year. “Thank you for the food!”
Esmeralda was one of 800 students enrolled in the program last year. Over 30 schools in the county partnered with IVFB to provide food assistance to students every Friday during the school year.
“This program is truly community driven,” said Celeste Alvarez, Director of Communications for the food bank. “Our school partners help identify their most at-risk students and discreetly provide them food before leaving for home on Fridays.”
Local retired teachers are among the volunteers that visit the food bank each week during the school year to pack bags of food for students enrolled in the program.
“As teachers, we don’t always know what is going on at home, but we can tell when a child is hungry because they may have trouble focusing, staying awake or have difficulty controlling their emotions,” explained Josie Conway, a retired local teacher and IVFB board member. “This program provides students a consistent source of food every Friday for the weekend– it may be one of the few things they can rely on.”
Due to inflation and supply chain issues, the I.V. Food Bank has had to purchase more food than ever to fill the gaps in their food supply.
“This program does not receive government funding, so it’s funded completely by the community,” Alvarez said. “It takes all of us -staff, volunteers, school administrators, teachers, and donors- to keep this program going.”
The summer months can be an especially scary time for children that rely on the consistency of school meals. To address this issue, the IVFB formed new partnerships with eight local libraries to provide food for the weekend to 350 children involved in their summer programs.
As the food bank prepares to relaunch the Weekend Backpack program this school year, they are excited to continue to feed as many students as needed in the community.
For $200 a year, community members can sponsor a child in the program. The food bank also has an online donation option where community members can give a monthly gift to support students. To learn more, visit: www.ivfoodbank.org
If you would like to enroll your child into your school’s program or if you represent a local school that would like to see the Weekend Backpack program available for your students, please contact Cari Augusta, IVFB Agency Care Coordinator at email@example.com