March 12, 2018 — The specter of not eating at all today is remote for many residents of Florence. However, some of the community’s youngest citizens face the fear of hunger on a daily basis.
One program that has been directly addressing this painful reality is the Food Backpack for Kids (FB4K) program, created and coordinated locally by members of Cross Road Assembly of God, 1380 10th St. FB4K is a registered 501(c)(3) and all donations made are tax deductible.
The FB4K program began in 2012 with a simple goal: to make sure no students in the Siuslaw and Mapleton school districts would be hungry.
Marilyn Barba is the program director for FB4K. She believes the need for the program was clear and some form of nutritional support was needed for local students.
“In the spring of 2012, our small women’s group researched, developed and, nine months later, were ready to implement our food backpack program,” Barba said. “The program was designed to provide three nutritious, shelf stable, easily opened meals with snacks for Saturday and Sunday.”
Church members have been coordinating efforts with the Florence Community Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the local school districts to identify and support students that are facing immediate hunger and broader food security issues on a regular basis.
“Volunteers deliver the food bags to Siuslaw and Mapleton schools on Thursday,” Barba said. “The school staff knows the students who may have little or no food to count on when they leave school Friday. They discreetly distribute the weekend food bags for those children to place in their backpacks.”
Siuslaw Elementary School Principal Mike Harklerode currently accepts 70 or more bags from FB4K each week and sends them home with children that are facing nutritional issues. He spoke to the overall challenges faced by young people who come to class hungry.
“This program fits a very specific need in our community. We have a number of kids who get three meals a day at school. Over the weekend, and especially over long holiday weekends, these students may not have access to the same level of nutrition,” he said. “Being food insecure can be demoralizing. It is hard to think of anything else with a hungry belly. The food backpack program helps to fill that need. It also allows for families to maintain dignity and honor since the distribution is discrete.”
The number of backpacks filled by the volunteers has increased steadily since the first year of the program. FB4K now readies 80 or more support bags each week.
“In 2012 we began feeding 20 children with funds our church’s women’s group had raised. We soon discovered the need was much greater,” Barba said. “We faced two choices: end the program when we ran out of money or get the word out to the community of the reality of hungry children living among us. We are people of faith in God and believe we can fill a need when we become aware of one.”
Barba said the small group that had come together as a means of fellowship and community service was surprised at the response to the first year of food support.
“Honestly, we were overwhelmed. We are parents and grandparents and we would not walk away knowing the children were already counting on the food. So we took a risk, began to let the community know about our food challenged children and how FB4K’s program was effective for them,” Barba said. “What we found was a community full of compassionate friends, neighbors, businesses, churches and service oriented groups who would not accept the reality of hungry children.”
The work done by FB4K has been appreciated by program participants and educators in Florence since it began. One of the often-mentioned reasons is the fact that 100 percent of all donations are used to purchase food for distribution.
In addition, FB4K was recognized and acknowledged on a larger scale recently.
According to Barba, FB4K partnered with the Florence Community PTA in 2016 and invited PTA President Tiffany Holdahl and Vice President Sarah Nunez to serve as advisors on the board of directors.
“Sarah submitted the FB4K program to the Oregon PTA in consideration for a statewide award,” Barba said. “In April, we were surprised when she told us that she had not only entered us ... but that FB4K was chosen to receive The Program of the Year Award.”
The Oregon PTA’s website said, “This award will be presented to the local unit that submits an outstanding program or project that focuses on one or more of the following areas: parent involvement, education, health and safety, cultural or performing arts or community service.”
While Barba appreciates the award FB4K received, she is quick to add that the success of the program is primarily due to the dedication and commitment of donors and volunteers.
“I think this Program of the Year Award is to be shared with every volunteer, donor and partner in our community who makes FB4K effective in erasing childhood hunger. Our volunteers are humbled with the community’s generosity, support and trust in us. We work tirelessly to earn that trust and never lose focus of our motto ... Together, No Child Will Go Hungry.”
For more information on the Florence Backpack for Kids nutritional support program, call 541-997-2497 or visit www.backpackimpact.com.