Focus on Child Hunger and Malnutrition -
Expanding the BackPack Program
As a global network, GFN is working hard to identify innovative programs and develop models to share across borders, allowing food banks to reach more children and families. The BackPack Program is one of those solutions and a demonstration of a global community working together to create better responses to hunger.
The BackPack Program, originally developed in the United States, is designed to meet the needs of hungry children at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations. Backpacks are filled with child-friendly, nonperishable, and easily consumed food that children take home.
Last August, we reported on the first pilot of the BackPack Program in Mexico City. GFN developed a project to adapt the program for global replication in 2011. Working with GFN member, Asociación Mexicana de Bancos de Alimentos (AMBA) in Mexico, and with support from the Abbott Fund and Abbott employees, we evaluated the specific needs and resources, and designed a pilot project in Mexico City with Alimento Para Todos food bank (APT). In 2012, the success of the first pilot project led to the addition of a second location, Banco de Alimentos de Culiacán, in Culiacán, Mexico.
Today, the BackPack Program continues to be successful in both cities, as the food banks provide ongoing backpack deliveries and engage corporate and community volunteers. Focusing on expansion, GFN has been working with member Second Harvest Japan to adapt the program within a new cultural context in Tokyo, again with the assistance of the Abbott Fund and company employees.
Now in the second year of the program, APT is on track to deliver more than 12,700 backpacks to kids by June 2013. Teachers have reported that students eagerly await Friday afternoons because they know "It's BackPack day!” The students are always excited to open the packs to see what they contain. The children are also proud to bring the food home and talk to each other about how they share the food with their whole family.
Volunteers play an essential role in sorting food and packing the backpacks delivered every Friday afternoon. The children at the three schools/ beneficiary organizations receive breakfast and/or lunch at school, but the backpacks help ensure they won’t go hungry over the weekend. Employees of Abbott in Mexico City volunteer in the warehouse preparing the backpacks for delivery. Volunteers also come from the nearby universities, as well as the beneficiary schools.
The second location in Mexico to pilot the BackPack Program was Banco de Alimentos de Culiacán, I.A.P. located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The food bank partnered with a school located in the poorest community in the city to provide backpacks to all 112 children who attend the school.
Beginning in February 2012, backpacks filled with milk, cereal, apples and oranges, juice, and gelatin mix, were distributed to the children each week. As in Mexico City, the packs also included staple goods of rice and beans to share with the entire family.
Volunteers play a critical role in the program in Culiacán as well. Students from the School of Nutrition and Food of the University of Sinaloa volunteered, helping to measure the height and weight of each child to monitor progress.
Prior to the program, teachers reported many children came to school having had no breakfast and suffering from dizziness, headaches, and lack of attention and energy. Some experienced malnutrition to the point of missing school for several weeks at a time. Following implementation of the program, the school has reported improved concentration and focus.
Introducing the BackPack Program in Japan:
One of the important lessons learned from the research and planning phase for the pilot program in Mexico was the importance of designing a BackPack Program that is both specific to the cultural context of the country and fits within the operational capabilities of the food bank. The basic model of providing nutritious food directly to children when other resources are not available (like school meals) can easily be shared across borders, but the program design, logistics, and obviously the types of food, will vary from country to country.
GFN member, Second Harvest Japan (2HJ) is in the process of adapting the BackPack program model to implement within a Japanese context and the operations of their food bank. The program will be designed to ensure adequate food availability for children of single mothers who do not have access to food assistance programs in their local community.
2HJ is working with a team of social workers, educators, government officials, single mother support group leaders, and others to develop detailed plans and explore different ways of providing food support to children. Their goal is to start distribution of food packages to the children of single mothers by the end of the year. We look forward to keeping you informed of the progress and lessons learned.
GFN extends our gratitude to the Abbott Fund, The P&G Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and Share Our Strength for their initial and continued support of the BackPack Program, and for helping GFN and our member food banks reach more children in need.
Learn more about other innovative food bank programs specifically designed to provide meals for children:
Sandwiches for Kids at Leket Israel, enlists hundreds of volunteers to prepare and distribute over 7,500 sandwiches each school day for children in 30 cities. Learn more >>
Lunch Buddies, a program of FoodBank South Africa, is providing thousands of school lunches every week, and teaching kids the value of giving back at the same time. Learn more >>