While their little hands stuff backpacks full of food for children who might otherwise go without food on the weekends, children as young as 6 years old are learning first-hand about hunger through The Warren BackPack Program.
“I try to describe to them what we’re doing and what hunger is,” said Julie Kaminer, executive director for the program. “These are mostly students from privileged schools, so we’re really opening their eyes. They’re fascinated at such a young age.”
The Warren BackPack Program, founded in 2008 by Robert and Shannon Warren, helps to end hunger in local Title I schools by filling in the gaps from state-funded programs. In Sarasota County, more than 1,000 kids in kindergarten through third grade experience hunger, and many of them are also homeless.
“It has evolved into a program that not only provides nutritional foods to children in need, it also provides children that have never experienced hunger the opportunity to experience empathy and service in action,” Shannon Warren said.
The program — funded by the Warren Foundation, grants from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice and the Community Foundation of Sarasota, along with funds that students raise and funds from private donors — delivers nutritionally balanced non-perishables in a child-friendly backpack to schools every Friday during the school year and at critical drop sites during the summer months.
During the 2008-2009 school year, with the partnership of All Faiths Food Bank, the YMCA School House Link Program and Sarasota County Schools’ Food and Nutrition Services, the program worked with selected schools to provide weekend food bags to students who were low-income and at risk for going hungry. Each week, students at Out-of-Door Academy packed bags of kid-friendly foods for 250 students at five local elementary schools.
They filled bags with two each of the following: entrées or food items with protein; hot or cold cereals; fruit cups; fruit juices/drinks; servings of vegetables; and several snacks, such as granola bars, fruit bars, crackers, puddings, nuts, etc. Because the items are bought in bulk, bags cost only $4 to $5 each for the entire weekend.
This summer, the program has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club and the Keystone Club and is packing for 200 children each week.
“Food packing gives me a chance to do something that makes me feel good,” said Aiden Pearson, 7, who is featured in the Warren BackPack Program documentary, “Send Hunger Packing.” “I can help other kids have food that don’t have any. It makes me feel like I’m not just helping children, but the world. And I like getting to tell people about the Warren BackPack Program.”
BY THE NUMBERS
6 – youngest age of children packing bags
10 – number of Title I schools that received backpacks in Sarasota County
580 – number of backpacks packed each week during the school year
3,660 – dollar amount raised from “Beauty and the Backpack”