According to the Kettering Backpack Program, 41 percent of school age children in Kettering qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The Backpack Program was founded in 2006 as a Kettering Leadership Academy team project. Their website states that they started with a Beta Test of 5 children at John F. Kennedy Elementary School. Food was supplied by donations with no outlay of funding.
As the years went on, they started helping more schools and helping more children. As of 2017, they are serving Fairmont High School and fighting the hunger issue one student at a time.
At Fairmont, students can contact a counselor about their specific situation and receive help if needed.
According to their site, 700 kids in the Kettering area receive nutritional bags of food to sustain them over the weekend, when school breakfasts and lunches are not available.
Kettering Backpack Program Executive Director Lori Bryner believes that child hunger can have a long lasting effect on a child’s life.
“Hunger can have a lasting impact on a child’s health and development in addition to their confidence and emotional well-being. Hungry students perform poorly in school and often have lower academic achievement because they are not well prepared for school,” Bryner said.
Fighting childhood hunger is a focus for this program. Across the district, including 19 different schools, their team provides food for at-risk students each Friday before kids head out for the weekend.
Every student receives 10 items each weekend which include: milk, 100% fruit juice, micro meal, one servings of fruit, vegetable, cereal, snack, microwavable mac n’ cheese cup, pudding, and one jar of peanut butter is sent home monthly according to their site.
Their website allows anyone to donate, whether it be food or a monetary donation. Local churches, businesses, school members and community members are all heavily involved in donating the money and food needed for this program to be efficient.
The program can help a lot more than what many staff and students realize. About 40 percent of students in the Kettering School District qualify for free or reduced lunch based on income. This means that about 3000 students may struggle with food insecurity.
“Many of these students rely on school breakfasts and lunches during the week and the lack of nutritious food over weekend is a reality for too many of our students. The Kettering Backpack Program recognizes that we need to feed students’ bodies before we can begin to feed their minds,” Lori said.
Jim Berlon, an adviser of the Backpack Program, sees the benefits of this program to all students in Kettering.
“By providing nutritional food to these students on the weekends, they come back to school on Mondays with more energy and the readiness to learn,” Berlon said.
More than just an adviser, Berlon understands the struggle that some families have when it comes to feeding their families.
“When we moved to Kettering in 1978, I was in the 2nd grade at J.E. Prass. I remember going into the cafeteria prior to school starting to pick up this white plastic chip. Didn’t understand why I needed to do that at the time. But I used that chip to pay for my lunch,” he said. As I look back to that time, I realized that we were on the reduced lunch plan. I know that there were many times that having food over the weekend could have helped our family. So, helping the KBP means so much to me because I can relate.”
Berlon stressed the importance of contacting a counselor or the Backpack Program directly if a student is in need of assistance.
No child should have to struggle when it comes to food. The Backpack Program is doing their best to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We are focused on continuing to expand our offerings and reaching out to even more children in the Kettering community. While we are focused on continued growth, we will remain vigilant and will not lose sight of where we have come from and why we exist: To empower children and fight hunger, one backpack at a time,” said President of the Board John P. Garrity.
If you are interested in donating, check out their website at https://www.ketteringbackpack.org/donate.