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Feeding Our Future

Janis Bianco of Accord, N. Y. spends a lot of time working behind stock piles of canned goods, oatmeal packets, and boxed macaroni and cheese. The items have helped her craft her life’s newest mission—providing food for students in her school district who don’t have enough to eat for the weekend.

After more than three decades with Roundout Valley Central School District, Bianco knew that in some of the classrooms where teachers encouraged students to get hungry for knowledge, some kids were literally going hungry.

“I saw this first hand,” Bianco says. Students would come to the office seeing if I had snacks that they could eat during or after school.  One of my desk drawers was always filled with crackers, juice boxes, etc. to give to anyone who felt hungry.”

When her area’s local food pantry met to discuss ways a weekend backpack program could address these food issues, Bianco immediately saw potential.

“I was called to the meeting to pick my brain about needy children since I worked with principals in the main office and the school nurse,” Bianco recalls. “When I realized how this program would help our students I jumped right in…I now had time to give to the community since retiring and felt this was a good way to help out. ”

The Program started with 30 students. Since then, the enrollment has doubled. Each Friday students are sent home with backpacks full of enough food for two breakfasts and three entrees, along with bread, two juice boxes, two snacks, fresh fruits, and fresh veggies. Twice a month, they also receive a card that is good for a gallon of milk.

“We felt if they had full bellies they would do better in school and possibly feel better about themselves,” explains Bianco.

 To date the program has filled more than 4,000 backpacks—more than 1,000 this school year alone. Demand for the weekend backpacks is on the rise, and the financial toll of maintaining a program that relies solely on community support is starting to show.

The average cost of a backpack is $6.50 per week. Roughly, that translates into $195 per student per school year. The program is funded by the Food Bank startup grant (which expires at the end of this school year), and receives the rest of its funding through community donations.

It’s been hard to find a reliable stream of funding, but Bianco is confident that the program has the potential to grow.

“Families are doing the best they can with the hard times they are experiencing, and we are just putting out a little extra helping hand and love to help them out,” says Bianco. “We do not want to ever drop this program so we are hoping that our community will continue to help feed these children.” 

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