The Buddy Pack Program provides Cooper County children a meal, where otherwise they would have none. With Cooper County having 14.7 percent of its population in poverty, the program is very pivotal in providing meals. The program serves 223 children in five elementary schools within Cooper County.
"The Buddy Pack Program began in 2005, which makes the 2013/14 school year the eighth year for the program. The Buddy Pack Program helps feed hungry elementary school children nutritious meals over the weekend. Buddy Packs are discreet backpacks given out on Fridays or the day before a holiday so needy children will have nutritious food until the next school day lunch. For many Buddy Pack students, this food eaten at home is their sole opportunity for food," The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri Regional Coordinator Darren White said.
While over a third of the counties of Missouri have the program, the benefits have been noticed.
"Teachers say students who have access to adequate food perform better academically than children who do not. Of the 110,552 children in our 32 county service area, 51 percent of them qualify for free and and or reduced federal lunch. We are currently serving 6,609 with Buddy Packs for weekend and holidays which is 12 percent of students eligible," White said.
White said he has heard positive feedback on increased learning from area teachers.
"One teacher recently told us that a hungry child is not prepared to learn! We believe better academic scores, less absenteeism, and healthier children come from our Buddy Pack program. If a child can stay in school, he or she has a better chance to break the cycle of poverty. Their families struggle every day in choosing to purchase food or pay rent, utilities, fuel or medicine," he said.
"Our program also reduces child food insecurity which in turn promotes improved classroom behavior and academic performance. It is a hunger-relief program with an educational component. Teachers select children most in need of food," he said.
White also added a critical need exists for children to receive food over the weekends and holidays.
"We serve many but due to cost constraints, we need your help. With increased funding, more students and schools can come on board," he said.