Turns out backpacks can be pretty useful. We’re talking about stuffing them full of more than just plastic binders and pencil pouches. At Ozarks Food Harvest (a food bank in Springfield, Missouri), volunteers are filling backpacks with nutritious meals. The Weekend Backpack Program provides weekend meals for at-risk students who have been identified as food insecure by school administration, and Prime associates in Springfield have been donating their time to help fill these packs. “I first heard about the program from someone else who had volunteered,” says Tember Cripe with Prime. “There are so many individuals and families that rely on what Ozarks Food Harvest provides, and OFH relies on volunteers to make this possible.” If you don’t have the capacity to volunteer your time, no worries. Another popular way of giving back is through a payroll deduction. A weekly payroll deduction of $5.77 will sponsor weekend meals for one child during a full school year. But before you sign up, keep reading to learn how your donation is making a big impact on the next generation. “The need is great for volunteers all over our community,” Cripe says, “and OFH makes it fun and easy to get involved!”
A Closer look
Students who receive backpacks are selected by teachers and counselors who interact with the children on a daily basis. Currently more than 1,600 children in 59 schools across southwest Missouri benefit from the program.
Backpacks are handed out to students each Friday during the school year. Each backpack includes six nutritious meals for the weekend. Annually more than 58,000 bags are distributed to provide more than 351,200 meals for students. On average, that means more than 6,900 Weekend Backpacks are distributed monthly.
Bags include meals for two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks, plus beverages. Examples of items include chicken salad, macaroni, mixed vegetables, corn, pears, mandarin oranges, fat-free shelf stable white milk and chocolate milk, pretzels, hummus and oatmeal.
Toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and soap are also distributed monthly to students attending rural schools. All of the food bags and hygiene kits are assembled by volunteers at Ozarks Food Harvest and delivered to schools.
Ozarks Food Harvest began attending Prime’s fall health fair in 2017 to invite Prime associates to sign up for payroll deduction to support The Weekend Backpack Program. “Many Prime drivers shared stories of their own struggles with childhood food insecurity,” says Jennifer Sickinger, community engagement manager at Ozarks Food Harvest. A weekly payroll deductions of $5.77 will sponsor one child for a full school year of weekend meals.
Since the fall of 2017, Prime associates have sponsored 54 children for the Weekend Backpack Program. A total of $16,077 has been donated through the payroll deduction program providing more than 12,000 meals for food insecure students.
Prime associates often volunteer between deliveries and often don’t mention their association with Prime, so Sickinger doesn’t have a way to track the number of hours Prime team members volunteer at Ozarks Food Harvest. But that’s okay because she can track Prime’s involvement in other ways including Prime’s annual Ugly Sweater contest in December and the Chili Cook-Off at the end of January. Both fundraisers support The Weekend Backpack Program. Since 2009, Prime has raised more than $75,500 through its Chili Cook-Off event to sponsor 252 children for weekend meals.
Thanks to Prime associates’ generosity, nearly 57,000 weekend meals have been provided for at-risk students. In 2019 the event raised nearly $18,000! Outside of the annual health fair, associates can contact Ozarks Food Harvest at 417-865-3411 to set up the payroll deductions.
See the article in the Prime Ways issue here on page 9!
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