According to nokidhungy.org, three in five public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry.
The 2013 Freshman Forum members decided to do something about it.
“Poverty doesn’t just start when you are an adult,” said Olivia Melton, a freshman from Orange Beach who has not declared a major. “It starts when you are young.”
Freshman Forum launched a program targeting child hunger in Pike County to combat this issue.
The initiative, Backpacks for Kids, partners with Troy Head Start, a local government-funded pre-K school, to provide backpacks filled with nutritious snack items that students can take home for the weekend.
Melton explained that Head Start students receive free meals during the school day, but weekend meals are up to the child’s household.
Freshman Forum began the program in November 2013 and hopes to make the program a permanent effort.
The program feeds half of the students each week in a rotation. Each week, two on-campus organizations sponsor the bags through a $125 donation and help pack the bags in Eldridge Hall during the week.
Freshman Forum members then deliver the 60 bags to the school so that they are ready to be taken home on Friday.
Melton said that this program is not just about the backpacks; it is about the kids.
When asked about her favorite backpack snack Alyssa Carlton, age 6, says “cookies,” which her mother, Yvonne Carlton of Troy, interprets as “peanut butter crackers.”
“I think the little snack bags are good to have especially for kids, and Alyssa, she really loves them,” Yvonne Carlton said. “They are a good thing to have especially with the little fruit snacks and the rice cereal. She enjoys them.”
Alyssa Carlton who attends the Head Start school, stood back and carefully surveyed the contents of one of the bags. Diced peaches, peanut butter crackers, chips, oatmeal, mini-wheats, apple sauce, ravioli and a granola bar spanned a table in the school office for Alyssa to view.
She let out at concentrated “Hmmm,” before pulling the ravioli can toward herself indicating that this was her favorite item in the bag.
“Fun things are in there,” she said.
Shauna Hutzler, a sophomore social work major from Madison and Freshman Forum director, delivered four bags last Friday and stayed to play with the children.
“They’re just little kids,” Hutzler said. “They want to play and have fun, but they have this need that we can help with. Why not give all that we can?”
She said that this cause is something that is always on her heart.
“I remember four or five of us came in (to Head Start) and we didn’t have the backpacks with us. We just came. We wanted to get to know the kids that were getting the backpacks, and we got to play on the playground with them. We played duck-duck-goose with them, and they had never played it before.”
Hutzler said that she enjoyed teaching the children this game and watching them laugh and smile.
Chris Hager, the coordinator of student involvement and leadership, said that many organizations have already stepped up to sponsor the bags.
“I’m excited that this year’s Freshman Forum has taken on designing, building and implementing their own philanthropy. They have really taken initiative to get this started, and it has taken off and been very well received by the community.”
Hager said he hopes that the backpack program will also serve as a good recruitment tool for the organization so that others will “carry the torch” and leave a “successful legacy” for the group.
To find out more information about how to get involved with the Backpacks for Kids program contact Freshman Forum President Olivia Melton at email@example.com or Chris Hager in the Student Government office in Trojan Center Room 215.