Food Backpacks 4 Kids

Food Backpacks 4 Kids is a community-based 501c3 non-profit service organization consisting of a corps of volunteers concerned about hungry children. The mission of Food Backpacks 4 Kids is to meet the nutritional needs of hungry children at times when other resources are not available to provide a sound basis for learning and personal growth via a strong supplemental nutritional program.

Founded in 2009, FB4K has continued the work to meet the needs of food insecure students, packing an average of 400 backpacks each week and distributing them to each of the 15 schools in the Peninsula School District.  With the exception of one part-time office administrator, we are entirely volunteer run.  Even the Executive Director, Karen Jorgenson, co-founder and developer of FB4K, volunteers her time and expertise on a daily basis.  Our operational budget comes from fundraisers, the generosity of the local community, small grants from local foundations, service clubs and individuals.  Eventually we became the first backpack program in the State of Washington to be granted eligibility for commodities from the Emergency Food Network and soon became the recipient of their silver spoon award as a result of our efforts, the first (and only) food backpack program to be honored.  FB4K is also the recipient of the Washington Association of School Administrators Leadership Award.

In addition to providing food to hungry students, we strive to provide enough food to offer supplemental nutrition to their families.  We do not want to put any child in the position of having to share their food with younger siblings or force a parent to go hungry so that their children can eat.  Therefore, each backpack contains enough to provide basic meals for a family of four for the weekend.  Supplementing the food needs for 1600 individuals can be annualized to 192,678 meals provided.

As we have matured as an organization, we have begun to focus more on providing supplemental nutrition.  In order to accomplish this, we successfully piloted a crockpot program that allows families to prepare nutritionally balanced hot meals for the entire family, with little effort.  FB4K, with supportive funding, has distributed more than 300 crockpots to participating program families.  Minimally, once a month we include a crockpot recipe in the backpack, along with the necessary ingredients to prepare the recipe.  Our annual survey results indicate that families are very appreciative of this effort.

FB4K is also an active participant in the United Way Power Pack program, a coalition of food backpack programs in Pierce County.  It is through this relationship that we are able to support each program by sharing resources, successes and challenges.  As a result, FB4K was able to pilot the crockpot project and share that information and recipes with the Power Pack partners, after which United Way financially supported other program efforts to establish a similar program, leading to progress in supporting family self-reliance.

More recently, we have been able to provide the program families with Food Market vouchers.  The value of the vouchers ranges from $5.00 to $25.00, as funding allows.  The larger vouchers are distributed prior to holidays and extended school breaks.  The vouchers are limited to the purchase of milk, meat and fresh produce and are welcomed by participants.

The demographics of the Peninsula School District indicate that there are special needs unique to the Key Peninsula.  Nearly 65 percent of students at Evergreen Elementary are eligible for free and reduced cost lunch.  The need for this supplemental nutrition does not go away just because the school year has ended for the summer.  Therefore, we have developed a summer hot lunch program that feeds children three days a week over the summer break.  This program meets at the Key Peninsula Civic Center and in cooperation with Communities in Schools, provides summer enrichment programs, this year expanding the distribution of sack lunches to several other sites on the Key Peninsula as well as in Gig Harbor

The Food Backpacks 4 Kids program has been honored to receive the Emergency Food Network’s John Schultz Partner Program of the Year and the Washington Association of School Administrators/Peninsula School District 40l Community Leadership Award winner.