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Placer Food Bank’s backpack program feeds hungry kids in Roseville

Offers assistance to ‘get them through the weekend’
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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During the week, a child living in a food-insecure household has access to a free or reduced-price lunch at school.

So what happens when the weekend comes?

Food insecurity means the child lacks a reliable source of food at home and may not know where he will get his next meal. According to the Map the Meal Gap 2011 study by Feeding America, the child food insecurity rate in Placer County is 21.4 percent — or 17,390 kids.

Placer Food Bank’s backpack program attempts to address that problem on a local scale. Each week, generic blue backpacks or grocery bags are filled with juices, healthy snacks, low-sugar cereals and ready-to-eat microwavable meals and given to eligible students.

“It’s intended to help get them through the weekend,” said Dave Martinez, executive director of the food bank.

The children retrieve the bags after school on Friday and return them empty the following Monday to be replenished.

The program is intended for Title 1 schools with a high percentage of children on the National School Lunch Program, meaning they receive free or reduced lunch or breakfast. Administrators identify certain students for eligibility.

Placer Food Bank launched the program three years ago using money from the “American Idol” Idol Gives Back Program. In 2010, they provided 96 backpacks each week to hungry children at Cirby Elementary School and the North Roseville REC Center.

The cost is $11 per pack per child for 36 weeks, for a total cost of $396 per child per school year.

“We would love to be able to get it to a countywide program,” Martinez said.

The program continues to be offered at the North Roseville REC Center, which serves youth from low-income families.

Executive Director Machel Miller-Presley said about 50, of the 195 registered kids, typically drop in each day after school. They mainly come from Buljan Middle School, Cooley Middle School, Kaseberg Elementary School, Woodbridge Elementary School, Roseville High School and Adelante High School.

Every Friday, the food bank drops off 15 bags at the center.

“Remind you, this is just for the children,” Miller-Presley said. “If someone asks me for a backpack, that probably means there’s no other food in the home.”

Placer Food Bank recently acquired grant money from Wal-Mart and the city of Roseville’s Citizens Benefit Fund to expand the program into Woodbridge Fundamental School. The program will start there in January and run through June.

“We will give them 300 backpacks a week,” Martinez said. “So (it’s) the entire school.”

Woodbridge Principal Dave Phillips said his school has the highest percentage of students in the Roseville City School District on the National School Lunch Program.

“I think when you consider 79 percent of our kids come from families struggling … in the current economy, anything you can do to help serve your students is beneficial,” Phillips said.

The food bank will use a less-expensive distribution method at Woodbridge by providing pre-packaged boxes for students to put in their own backpacks.

“The more we can do within our school to support the community, the better off we are,” Phillips said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.