Wednesday, May 09, 2012

TOP STORY >> Food for Kids provides meals here

Leader staff writer

At the end of the day, you may think the backpack a student is lugging is loaded full of homework, but it may contain food for the evening or the weekend to keep a child from going hungry.

The Arkansas Rice Depot’s Food for Kids program provides schools with new backpacks and ready-to-eat meals for youngsters. The backpacks are unadorned and do not stand out, keeping it discreet for students. Food is delivered monthly to the schools and stored in small pantries.

A student at Badger Elementary in Beebe said the Food for Kids program helps his family stretch their food stamp money. They have used the program for over a year. Students with siblings are given additional food.

“It makes me, my brother and sister happy. We can eat some snacks after school. It calms me down not being hungry,” he said.

Not having food he said, “makes my throat get dry. I can barely move. That’s what it’s like to be hungry.”

The youngster said having food available improves his grades at school.

“If we get some cereal it lets me, my brother and sister think of our work,” he said.

Beebe and Badger Elementary, Early Childhood and Beebe High had around 75 students and siblings served in 2010-11 by the food program.

“I think it helps the students focus on the task on hand, and not worry during the day about whether they will be having food,” Badger Elementary counselor Nikki Jolly said.

She said the school has received letters from parents thanking them for the temporary help. She said some grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

Jolly said parents are appreciative of how the program is handled. It builds trust and a relationship with the school.

She said at Badger Elementary there isn’t a stigma with the Backpack for Kids program. Students help unload the truck. They want to help.

At Badger Elementary backpacks are filled on Fridays with snacks and kid-friendly meals such as macaroni and cheese, or a can of Spaghettios for the weekend and placed in the student’s locker. During the week they are given a baggie with a meal to tide them over for the next day.

Beebe Elementary counselor Melissa Brown said at her school during the week students in the program go to the counselor office where they are given something to eat and a snack item. They pick up a backpack filled with food on Fridays.

Brown said she’s noticed an increase in the past year of students seeks assistance.

She said parents will ask for help, or some students seem hungry and are referred to the program by a teacher. Their parents are notified about the program.

“Some kids will complain of hunger and not had anything to eat the night before,” Brown said.

Cabot School District counseling coordinator Terena Woodruff said the need for food is greater at the end of the month than at the beginning. Backpacks are filled weekly on Fridays.

The Rice Depot reported the Cabot School District averaged 370 students last year on the Food For Kids program in the nine elementary schools, both middle schools, Cabot Junior High South and Cabot High School.

Woodruff said the hunger program, “helps build a relationship with parents at home. They see the school trying to help the kids, and not get them in trouble. They trust us more and the parents will come and participate in school.”

The Food for Kids program is available in the following Pulaski County Special School District: Bayou Meto Elementary, Cato Elementary, Pinewood Elementary, Sher-wood Elementary, Sylvan Hills Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary, Tolleson Elementary, Jacksonville Middle School and Northwood Middle School. Approximately 309 students and their siblings were assisted last year, according to the Arkansas Rice Depot.

Lonoke Elementary Primary and Middle School had an estimated 50 students served by the hunger program.

The Arkansas Rice Depot also provides food and infant items for pregnant teens, teenage mothers and their babies to ease some of their burden so they will finish high school.

Lauren McElroy, vice president of the Arkansas Rice Depot, said anyone can support the Food for Kids program by making a monetary donation to support children in their community.

Donors can choose which school district they want to help.

A donation of $30 buys food for one child for one month, $200 helps all the hungry students in one school and $2,000 provides a year’s supply of food for all hungry students in a school.

For more information about the Food for Kids program contact your local schools.

To support Rice Depot, call 501-565-8855 or visit