Identify the school where you want to start a new backpack food program.
A helpful way to learn more about the need in your community is to explore the percentage of children in a school who qualify to receive free or reduced-priced school meals (Title 1 schools). Go to your county school website to access schools that are Title 1.
Schedule a meeting with the principal or counselor at the school you hope to serve.
Your program is to be run by volunteers so assure them that there will be no added responsibilities placed on the school staff. You must be aware of the importance of the Privacy Act, so no child will be nor can be identified as being a participant in your program.
Make a budget considering all of the resources and materials you will need for your program.
Once you understand the needs of the school and the resources you have, begin planning the details of your program. Begin to answer these questions:
a. How many children will most likely be involved in your backpack food program?
b. The school will send out a permission slip to parents that are chosen for the program.
c. How and where will you package the food?
d. What day of the week will you pack the food bags? Many churches pack the food bags on Wednesday night, along with their usual mid-week activities.
e. What day of the week will you distribute the food bags? Bags are frequently distributed by volunteers on Thursdays. Thursdays are best in case there is a problem you need to solve before the bags are handed out to the students on Friday.
f. Are you going to distribute additional food on extended breaks (holidays, spring/fall breaks)? Discuss this option with the school.
Recruit volunteers and begin fundraising.
There are many resources you will need to secure before you begin your program. They include food, large containers, bags, a dolly or cart, and storage space. Food will likely be your most significant cost for your program. Due to the possible inconsistent availability of food, try to maintain a three to five-week storage of food.
Each bag should cost $2.50 to $4.00.
$3.00 x 10 students = $30.00 each week.
$30.00 per week x 36 weeks per year = $1,080.00 each year for 10 students.
If you decide to distribute additional food for extended breaks, some suggested items are: peanut butter, jelly, spaghetti sauce, noodles, cereal, a box of snacks.
A strong and dependable group of volunteers will be essential to keeping your program organized and successful.
The head volunteer responsibilities include: being responsible for recruiting additional volunteers, coordinating the pickup and drop off of food to the school, and fundraising. The head volunteer works with teachers and counselors to learn when children involved in the program leave the school and when new children join the school. The head volunteer also communicates with the school administration, staff, and teachers about the program. It is important to be the eyes and ears about the progress of the program at a school. Coordinate fundraisers.
Other volunteers package and deliver food bags to the children each week. The time commitment is about one hour per week (usually every Thursday); volunteers could easily rotate depending on their availability.
Background checks and Child Safety Training should be required of all volunteers who work directly with or interact with the children. The background check and training are for the protection of the volunteer, the child, the local school where you are partnering, and the sponsoring church.
Bags. How are you going to send the food home with the child?
Choose a type of bag you want to use to distribute the food. One bag will be needed for every child, each week. Plastic shopping bags or Ziploc bags work well because they can easily be collected and do not require a child to return the bag the following week. Reusable bags are environmentally friendly, but you risk children or families losing the bag, and that will require you to purchase more. Washable, drawstring bags work well. They can be inserted into the students’ regular backpack.
The student then returns the bag on Monday to be reused, thus teaching the children responsibility. Some schools will tell the students that if they do not return their bag, they will receive their food in a plastic bag.
If you use returnable bags or backpacks, be sure the bags are placed in an area where they can be cleaned if necessary and treated for bugs. Many churches and ministries that work with the Backpack Weekend Food Ministry have discovered putting the food into a Ziploc bag works best.
Plan your food bags and purchase food.
Once you have gathered information about the number of children, you will be serving and the community resources, check with your local food bank. If they already have a weekend program, ask if you can piggyback on their program. Each program provides a different amount of food items, depending on their budget. Here is one suggested list:
• 2 Breakfast Options (instant oatmeal/grits, cereal bar, pop-tart)
• 2 Entrees (Ravioli, Vienna sausage, soup, jerky sticks)
• 2 Snacks (1 salty/1 sweet – crackers, cookies, fruit cup, granola bar)
• 1 Pasta (mac & cheese/Ramen noodles)
• Juice box (100% juice recommended)
Things to consider when planning a menu include:
a. The weight of the bag.
b. How the food is packaged.
c. DO NOT include foods in glass containers as these could be a safety risk for the child.
d. Consider the cooking utensils and tools the child has available.
e. If parents are working and the child will be preparing his food, include cans with pop-off tops that do not require a can opener.
f. Include foods that are ready to eat or require little to no cooking as the child may not have access to a kitchen, stove or microwave.
Confirm a start date and launch your program.
a. Meet with the school principal/counselor and decide on a start date (usually a Thursday) to distribute your first bags.
b. Have the counselor send permission forms home to families with information about the start date and encourage them to sign up. Work with the school counselor or administrator to develop the permission forms.
c. Create a final volunteer schedule making sure you have reliable volunteers to pack the bags the day before the start date.
d. Create an assembly line with your volunteers to package food.
e. Work with your counselor or school contact person to ensure they can hand out the food bags on Friday or the last day before break.
f. Continue this weekly schedule working within the school’s calendar.
Measure the success of your program.
After a few months of running the program, begin thinking about how it is running. For example:
• Are you coordinating well with the school?
• Are you reaching all the children who need the program? Could you expand the program?
• Are the children enjoying and benefiting from the food?
• Are your volunteers enjoying their work?
Create a strategy to measure the success of your program that incorporates feedback from parents and teachers.
Informally ask the teachers to survey their children about the program. Encourage them to ask the children what their favorite food has been in the bags, how easy it is to carry the bags home, and other questions about their experience with the program.
Continue to communicate with your school:
The program is only successful if you have accurate information about the families and children you are serving and need to serve. Encourage the counselor to let you know when a child leaves the school or when a new child joins the school who may benefit from the program.
Measuring the success of your program not only helps you evaluate your impact on the school and children in your community, but it also prepares you for writing grants or finding additional financial resources for sustaining or expanding your program.
Here are your SEVEN STEPS FOR SUCCESS:
1. Identify the school where you want to start a new backpack food program.
2. Schedule a meeting with the principal or counselor at the school you hope to serve.
3. Make a budget considering all the resources and materials you will need for your program.
4. Recruit volunteers and begin fundraising.
5. Plan your food bags and purchase food.
6. Confirm a start date and launch your program.
7. Measure the success of your program.