Food-filled backpacks delight kids

By jeanne starmack


The Second Harvest Food Bank is teaming up with the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley to fill backpacks for needy kids in Struthers Elementary School.

The BackPack Program is the Food Bank’s third in the area, said Becky Miller, Second Harvest’s Manager of Resource Development. It also serves 150 students at Campbell Elementary School and 150 students at Willard and Jefferson elementary schools in Warren.

On Friday, 75 elementary school kids at Struthers received “backpacks,” or bags of “kid-friendly” food intended to tide them over through the weekend. They will receive bags of food every Friday during the year.

The school named BackPack recipients from its free- and reduced-price meal program, Miller said.

With $67,500 from the SJK Fund, a family fund under the administration of the Community Foundation, the Food Bank will fund Struthers’ backpack program for three years, Miller said.

“The whole purpose is to fill the gap on weekends and holidays,” Miller said, adding that the bags are filled with staples such as peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, cereal, milk, juice and microwaveable meals.

“Something kids can easily prepare themselves,” she said.

Miller said the food sent home is to feed the kids, not necessarily the entire family, though extra items are “thrown in” for siblings.

Maggie Kowach, building principal, said that when she showed the kids in the program what would be in their bags, they clapped and cheered.

“One beautiful second-grader with big eyes said, ‘thanks, this is really going to help my mom and dad,’” she said.

“I want to express my sincere gratitude for this wonderful opportunity,” Kowach said.

She said the backpack program allows schools to take care of not only students’ educational needs but their other needs as well.

Miller said that more than 70 percent of students in the school are eligible for free or reduced lunches, and 50 percent of kids in the Mahoning Valley are eligible for them.

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