Students fight against hunger

Kathleen Cook, Editor-In-Chief

Many students often think hunger is a problem that exists only outside of school, but students suffer from hunger on a daily basis.
These students are offered free and reduced lunches during the school week. But when the weekend comes, more often than not, these students are stranded with not enough food to meet their everyday food needs.
Backpack Buddies is a program organized by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. The program is designed to provide underprivileged students with food to sustain them over the weekend. It is used mainly in elementary and middle school. However, the program is just now starting to be implemented in high schools.
“A lot of times when there are giving programs, teenagers get left by the wayside. So what we want to do is make sure that the needs for young people that are students are just as critical at all ages. And while we have limited resources at school, we want to do what we can,” Jodi Deskus, student assistance program coordinator said.
Deskus says she was inspired to start a Backpack Buddies program here when she noticed a growing number of students being classified as homeless.
“The volume of students that are fitting under the homeless criteria has grown a lot since I got here. In addition, we saw the news reports about the launch of a program in Rolesville, which got us thinking,” Deskus said. “There are a lot of students who receive free and reduced lunch and or need other resources in our community. The Backpack Buddies program is going to give us the opportunity to send home food on the weekend, when obviously free and reduced lunch at school is not available.”
Deskus also allowed interests inside the school to influence her decision to start the program.
“We had a student who identified it as a hope for us to launch this program. And then there were opportunities for Ms. Longo’s class to be involved and to have great learning opportunities from the Backpack Buddies program,” Deskus said.
One of the goals for this program is that disadvantaged students can focus more on their school work than finding food.
“If basic needs are not being met, like food, shelter, or basic supplies, then it is very hard to focus on anything other than meeting those goals. So if we can fill in some of those gaps, even in the smallest ways, sometimes it can make a big difference in the student’s abilities,” Deskus said.
Deskus hopes to make Backpack Buddies a school-wide effort. One of the school groups that is already on board with helping is the special needs program. Kaitlyn Longo teaches a class of eight self-contained autism students.
Long became interested in the program when she approached Deskus about keeping her own supply of food for students.
“At the beginning of the school year, we were talking about keeping our own supply of food to send home with students we thought needed it. I knew Mrs. Deskus had the clothes closet, but I didn’t know if there was a food component to it,” Longo said. “I came in and talked with her, and that’s when she told me about the program.”
All eight of Longo’s students will be able to help out in the program to some degree.
“I want them to do a little bit of everything. I want them be checking expiration dates, bagging the food, and sorting the food with the help of other students,” Longo said.
Longo was very involved in writing the application to have Backpack Buddies at our school. During the process, Longo and Deskus referred to the program that Rolesville has instilled in their school. Rolesville started the first local Backpack Buddy program in high school.
The initial plan is to have a big food drive to bring in all different types of food for the program. And then, as certain foods become scarce in the pantry, there will be some type of competition between clubs. Both Deskus and Longo want the student body to be totally involved in the program and planning the food drives.
Deskus acknowledges that it will take students to make Backpack Buddies a successful program.
“We would be foolish adults if we thought that our ideas would be more effective and smarter than what young people would come up with. So we are going to defer to the minds and ideas of students, because those will be the smartest ideas we will have,” Deskus said.
With students planning the events, Longo hopes it will promote participation.
“Having clubs partake in bringing in food, that gives students ownership. I think the student body has proved itself over and over again, with the special needs prom and field of dreams, that they are willing to help with anything,” Longo said. “This school always jumps on board.”
Longo knows that her students will gain valuable skills that will be used now and later.
“It’s great for them to be doing while they’re in school, but these are also skills that they will be able to apply once they leave,” Longo said.
The main goal for Backpack Buddies is to not only help students in need, but also bring together the student body.
Deskus said, “Backpack Buddies will be able to meet the needs of our students in a variety of different ways. I think it will affect both those who need the food, as well as those who will benefit from putting together the bags.”