In October of 2003 my wife and I had just walked our daughter to her first grade classroom. As we were walking back across the playground, a girl ran up to us crying. We stopped and asked her what was wrong, and her response still echoes in my soul today:
"I'm hungry and I'm cold. I had to sleep in our car last night and I'm late for school."
You might as well have stuck a knife through my heart, and I believe that is what God did. I ran from the image of that little girl by working at the soup kitchen or writing checks to the local food bank, but I couldn't escape her. After four years of running I knew that I had to do more.
9,749 children are eligible for free and reduced lunches. These are the children most likely to go without food on the weekends.
I began researching hunger in Mesa County. I talked with teachers, principals, and the head of the school district's nutrition program. I found out that over half the kids in the school district qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. There is also a fairly large population of kids who don't qualify, but are still hungry because of poor parental behavior.
I also learned that many kids who are in the free and reduced lunch program didn't eat anything on weekends. They went from lunch on Friday to lunch on Monday without any food. A light went on, and I remembered reading about a program in Denver called Totes of Hope that sent food home with kids over the weekend. After doing a little research, I found that nothing like that was available in our valley. So I decided that perhaps we could provide backpacks of non-perishable food to children that they could take home on Fridays and eat over the weekend.
In March of 2008, with help from First Presbyterian Church, we started a trial program at Orchard Avenue Elementary School. We sent backpacks of food home with 10 needy children for the last ten weeks of school. The program was very well received and we became known as "food angels" around the school.
Over that summer, word spread of the program and by the beginning of school year 2008-2009, we had five schools with 165 students signed up. Canyonview Church wanted to help, so they began adopting schools and providing backpacks of food also. By the end of the school year, Kids Aid and Canyonview were sending out over 700 backpacks a week to students in 12 schools.
It didn't take long to realize the impact we were having. The very first week after we started delivering backpacks to Orchard Mesa Middle School, a girl came skipping into her counselors's office on Monday morning. She had received a backpack the Friday before. Her counselor commented on how happy she was and the girl said she had had a great weekend.
"Oh really, what did you do?" the counselor asked.
The girl replied, "We got to eat."
In 2009, we served 17 schools and gave out over 1,260 backpacks of food each week.
Today we serve every District 51 school and are sending home 1800 backpacks per week. If you would like to help us in our mission to Let Kids Be Kids, please click here.