“When I’m hungry in class, I usually just get really sleepy and just want to fall asleep on my desk,” shares a student at Collins Middle School in Salem.
“Hunger impacts a kid’s ability to learn in many ways, but mostly, kids that come to school that are hungry get distracted,” school Adjustment Counselor Marlene Lunt elaborates, “They don’t have the energy to participate. It makes it really difficult for them to learn overall.”
“There are 560 scholars that walk these halls daily,” says Principal Glenn Burns. “Before you can focus on just strictly academics, you have to make sure everybody’s basic needs are met and that starts with food.”
Due to poverty levels in Salem, all students receive free breakfast and lunch at school. But there are 68 hours between lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday when many students go hungry.
Backpack68 started two years ago on the North Shore. Salvation Army Corps Officer Captain Dennis Knight explains how it started. “The school contacted us and said, ‘We have 20 kids who are going home on the weekend without any food at all to eat.’ And so we quickly asked what can we do? We put together a lunch and some breakfasts for them to take home on Friday evenings.”
The program currently provides food for 60 households in Salem each weekend.
Adjustment Counselor June Casale says, “We have one family here at the school, a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader. The brother shared during a family therapy session how important this program has been for them because he has been constantly worried about food. The backpack program has alleviated this one area of stress for the family.”
The students in their own words:
“I’m bringing food to my sisters, my mother, and two more families. It feels great to bring home food.”
“I hope that the Backpack68 program continues. I’ve been getting food in the program since the middle of last year. All of my family eats the food that I bring home.”
“It feels good to bring home food to my family because then everyone else gets food and it’s a really good feeling.”