‘Backpack’ pilot will feed kids on weekend

“How do you learn on a Monday when you didn’t have any food on a Saturday or Sunday?”

Allegheny Valley Elementary School Principal Steve Parinella’s question during Monday evening’s meeting of the Warren County School District’s board of directors accurately summarizes the sentiment driving an initiative about to go live at that school.

Superintendent Dr. William Clark said in his previous position, “People (students) walked out on a Friday afternoon with food. (We) know it might be all the food they would get over the weekend.”

That’s where the backpack program comes in.

According to Parinella, the backpack program will provide eight items of food for students to take home on a Friday. Those eight items comprise a breakfast, lunch and dinner for both Saturday and Sunday.

“Sometimes it’s the basic needs of kids that need taken care of before we can get to the educational,” he said.

Allegheny Valley was selected as the first school in this new program, that partners the district with the regional Second Harvest Food Bank and the Sheffield Food Pantry, because it has the highest percentage of free and reduced lunch eligible students – over 60 percent – of any school in the district.

“In all my time in education, (I’ve) never seen something move so” fast, said Parinella. He explained the cost to feed a student in this way, each Friday, is $150 for the school year. Board member Mary Anne Paris said that amounts to $4 per student per weekend.

Based on some “very generous donations from the community,” Parinella explained, the school is ready to facilitate the program for 50 students.

“I think it’s a great thing to bring to our school,” he said. “A lot of the people in the community have rallied around this. We’re ready to roll.”

He explained that students will be called down to the school’s office individually and a bag with the food will be placed in his or her backpack. “Everyone in the building won’t know what is happening.” He said that parents can opt into the program and noted that they will “try to give canned goods with poptops so they (students) can be self-sufficient.”

“I see it in my building where kindergartners and first graders that are cooking for themselves,” he added, explaining that if an agreement with the food pantries is approved, Second Harvest can deliver the food on Nov. 19 and permission slips can be distributed for program participation. “It’s kind of unique for me to see something happen this quickly,” he added.

Clark said that a note will go home to the family to ensure communication on allergy-related issues.

“When we partnered with Second Harvest, it’s not the food we need to gather,” said Parinella. “It’s the funds and donations. Once they bring the food to us we can get it out.”

“It’s a win-win,” Clark added. “(We) wanted to start it down in AVES because it is the highest need. (We) hope to expand it out to a district-wide program.”

Paris explained that they are going to take some shelves from Sheffield Area Middle High School to AVES to allow the food to be directly delivered to the school, rather than the food pantry. Doing so “limits handling of food,” she said. “I think we’ve had two major meetings and (the) Sheffield food pantry was willing to come on board and said they were willing to support it.”

Board President Arthur Stewart asked how individuals can contribute.

“(The money) goes to the Sheffield Food Pantry,” Paris said, adding that individuals could sponsor a student for $150 or indicate on a check memo line that the money is for the backpack program.

Clark said, as the the program grows, soliciting donations will be handled by the community and local ministerial groups. He noted that Youngsville will be the next place the program is implemented.

The board approved the agreement, which carries no cost to the district, unanimously.