Queen Anne Presbyterian Church, the Queen Anne Helpline and the Ballard Food Bank have teamed up to bring a weekend backpack program to hungry children in Queen Anne.
The idea started when Queen Anne Presbyterian Church (QAPC, 414 W. Howe St.) received two unsolicited $3,000 donations from the Biella Foundation in Redmond, Wash.
“We were sort of feeling incredibly fortunate that this money just landed on our doorstep,” Brooke Graham Doyle said.
Graham Doyle is an elder at the church. The “tiny” congregation has always been focused on outreach, but this money gave them the opportunity to do something different, she said. It was the church’s pastor, Douglas Early, who first suggested a weekend food backpack program.
The church has an ongoing relationship with the Queen Anne Helpline (311 W. McGraw St.). Together, they began planning what the program would look like. Then the Ballard Food Bank joined the cause. The Ballard Food Bank (5130 Leary Ave. N.W.) serves ZIP codes in Ballard, Queen Anne and Magnolia and already has an existing weekend food backpack program.
The trio launched the program three weeks ago at John Hay and Coe elementary schools, serving about 12 students. The program is funded primarily through a grant at the Ballard Food Bank.
“This idea of food insecurity is more prevalent than we knew about,” Graham Doyle said.
Feeding that need
Many children in Queen Anne and throughout the city get free or reduced lunches and breakfasts at school. This is usually enough to sustain them during the week, even if they don’t get a substantial dinner at home, Graham Doyle said. But over the weekend, many kids go hungry, and come Monday morning, they’re cranky, hungry and not ready to learn. This program hopes to address that gap in service, she said.
So every two weeks, volunteers from QAPC pack two weeks’ worth of nonperishable items — purchased by the Ballard Food Bank — into bags for the children. On Thursday, perishables and produce are added to the bags, and then they’re delivered to the schools, where they’re distributed to the students.
There’s enough in each bag for two breakfasts, two lunches, three dinners and snacks. Each bag costs less than $10.
The backpacks are more of a euphemism than an actual object, said Queen Anne Helpline executive director Lisa Moore. The program uses an opaque plastic bag. The students either collect the bags, or teachers discreetly put the bags inside students’ backpacks.
“We don’t want to attach any stigma to the students getting the bags,” Moore said.
The need is there, Moore said. The Helpline has an emergency food bank, and Moore would often see clients come in for food on the weekend or toward the end of the month, when food-stamp benefits were low.
After the program began, Moore got a call from a client on a Friday, asking to pick up emergency food for the weekend: Her food stamps were running out, and she was worried about feeding her son. The client then told Moore, “I’m so excited about this new program where they will provide him with weekend food. I can’t tell you what a difference this is going to make for us.”
It’s important because there is such a link between good nutrition and being ready to learn, Graham Doyle said, and also because every child deserves to have food and not be hungry. The stress of being hungry and not knowing when you’ll eat again is difficult on kids, she said, especially when a child is hungry and surrounded by peers who aren’t.
The Ballard Food Bank’s existing program reaches about 60 students at six different schools throughout its coverage area, said development associate Erin MacDonald.
The trend is growing beyond just the Ballard and Queen Anne programs. There are programs and awareness throughout the city, including a Backpack Summit in September that brought together hunger-relief organizations from Seattle and King County to strategize these weekend food programs.
The Queen Anne program is purposefully small now, Moore said, to work out any kinks along the way. She would like to expand the program to all children in need in Queen Anne and Magnolia. She anticipates that number to be somewhere between 100 and 200 children. As the school year goes on, Moore plans to gradually add 50 to 100 students to the program.
The groups will look at the infrastructure, the church’s money and the food bank’s grants to see how many more students they can support. The grants that QAPC received may be used to hire a program coordinator, Graham Doyle said.
“We approached all of the principals in Queen Anne — all expressed interest, and all said they had a need,” she said.
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