As raising up “at-risk” children is one of my driving passions, the related issue of hunger is also near to my heart. The Riverbend Food Bank, serving Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, is attempting to feed the over 120,000 people in our service area who are “food insecure”, meaning they don’t know where they will get their next meal. According to the food bank’s website, one out of every five children in our area is missing meals, not by their own choice. This is a heartbreaking travesty! We are the wealthiest country on earth and we can’t feed our children?!
One of the many programs The Riverbend Food Bank Sponsors is the “Backpack Program”. During the school year, most “at-risk” children eat breakfast and lunch at school. Oftentimes, that’s the only nourishment they will receive throughout the day. Weekends can be hard for many families. Forced to choose between rent and food or medicine and food, sometimes filling meals can slip between the cracks. The “Backpack Program” is Riverbend’s answer to that dilemma. Principles, teachers, school counselors or school nurses sign individual students with a need up for the program whenever these students are identified. Once so designated, a grocery sack of “kid-friendly”, nutritious food is discretely placed in these students’ book bags every Friday so that the child will have adequate food over the weekend. I have first-hand experience that this program changes lives. When my last mentee was in elementary school, I asked her principal to sign her up for the program as I knew the dire straights that family endured. Every Friday, that young girl was blessed with a sack of food that her family of five lived off that weekend. It wasn’t perfect, but you can bet it made a difference to that family…and many others.
Women are mighty! Last week, I met seven girlfriends after work at Riverbend. We played music. We sang out loud. We danced. We shared our days and talked about our challenges and our joys. It was two wonderful hours of friendship and connection. Most important? We filled back packs. In two hours, eight friends filled 800 BACK PACKS!!!!!! Talk about a good feeling!