Nearly 25 percent of Vashon Island School District students qualify for free or reduced meals, and now a group of islanders is stepping in to make sure these students are fed on the weekends.
The free and reduced meal program provides breakfast and lunch on school days to students from families in need — to qualify for reduced lunch, a family of four must make less than $42,643 annually; for a free lunch that number drops to $29,965. But on the weekends, when there is no school, there is no guarantee of a good meal.
“Kids that don’t have enough to eat, especially over the weekends, come to school Monday morning and struggle to focus on what they need to focus on,” Nancy Radford, founder of the Backpack Pantry, said on Monday. “They get breakfast, but if you’ve gone all weekend without a proper meal, that’s not enough.”
Realizing this predicament, Radford and a few other islanders came together to figure out how to provide free meals on weekends. The result is the Backpack Pantry, a program working under St. John Vianney Church and kicking off this school year.
“We can start this school year with 20 kids,” Radford said. “What we needed was money in hand to fund the whole school year because we didn’t want to start feeding these children and run out of money before year’s end. We met that goal.”
Radford and her team are not involved with the actual distribution of the meals, but do all of the food purchasing and preparation. Once the meals are made, they will be delivered to the school district, usually on Friday mornings, then distributed to the students the district has identified as needing them.
“We have no knowledge about which kids are getting what. We’re about feeding them, not finding out who they are,” Radford said.
School district nurse Sarah Day said that the program is
“We certainly see hungry kids at school, and they’re of all ages,” she said. “We work to get kids on our meals programs because we see them bringing nothing from home.”
She said that islanders should not think that “everything’s fine, because it’s not.”
“There’s so many needy, needy families. Anything the community can do to help is extremely welcome,” she said.
While the Backpack Pantry has met its funding needs for this school year, it will need financial support for next school year and volunteers to help package the lunches.
Those who are interested in making a financial donation can send a check to St. John Vianney Church, PO Box 308, Vashon, WA 98070 with a memo for Backpack Pantry.
Those interested in volunteering should contact Radford at 463-2142 or 463-3561.