This school year was the first year of the William Floyd “Blessings in a Backpack” program, which is designed to provide food to elementary school students when school is not in session. The program, funded through donations and $4,000 in “seed money” provided by Blessings in a Backpack, has been assisting approximately 25 elementary school children each weekend and school vacation since it began in December. In addition to helping students suffering from food insecurity, the district has broadened this initiative into a learning opportunity for William Floyd High School Life Skills and School to Work students by incorporating planning, budgeting, making lists, shopping/price comparisons, nutrition, purchasing, sorting, inventory control, leadership, management skills and much more into their weekly curriculum.
“As a teacher in my community, I consider the students receiving these backpacks as a part of my own extended school family,” said William Floyd High School special education teacher, Carmella Currao, who along with Kerri Skadl’s School to Work classes and Kristen Puric’s Business Academy classes oversees the weekly operations of Blessings in a Backpack. “My own classroom students are a part of this program, and we feel that the opportunity to give the valuable gift of food and nutrition is a wonderful benefit to us all.”
Students in Life Skills classes and the School to Work program kick off the week with planning for shopping with a goal of keeping the cost of each backpack under $4 per week. Students then check the weekly sales and take the bus to the store to pick out the items. After the shopping has been completed, students return to school, unpack the groceries and assemble the backpacks.
“This experience provides students with the unique opportunity to experience the character traits of empathy, citizenship and community-based pride first-hand,” added Ms. Currao. “This program reinforces and expands students’ knowledge and skills so they can prepare for life and develop independent living skills.” Students will earn Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) credential hours and, in some cases, community service hours.
“Blessings in a Backpack” began as a pilot program at John S. Hobart Elementary School, and, if feasible, will be expanded to other buildings in the coming years. The William Floyd Blessings in a Backpack coordinator Barbara Mehmel, who also serves as the president of the John S. Hobart PTO, has been hosting events in the building with the cost of admission being a food item in an effort to offset some of the costs of the program. “Our teachers have been generously donating items, as well,” said Ms. Mehmel. She added that there are plans in the works to seek online donations through Blessings in a Backpack. Additionally, she wanted to express special thanks to John S. Hobart Elementary secretary Joanne Giordano, who has been instrumental in disseminating the food to students.
The William Floyd School District also hosts a free summer food program weekly during the summer in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Any child 18 and younger, whether residing in the community or not, can eat breakfast and lunch at William Floyd High School for free. The dates for the program are July 9 through August 24 from 7 am – 9:30 am for breakfast and 11 am – 1:30 pm for lunch.