August 5th, 2013

Blessings in a Backpack a School-Year Resource to End Hunger, Improve Learning

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan this morning was joined by North Alabama educators, business leaders, philanthropists, children’s advocates, and nonprofit leaders to announce a seven-year campaign to end child hunger in Alabama.

“The problem of hunger in Alabama, especially among families with children, is deeper and more widespread than many of us realize,” McMillan said. “I applaud the efforts of End Child Hunger in Alabama and the Huntsville community volunteers for supporting Blessings in a Backpack. Let us hope that other communities in Alabama adopt this approach that has been so successful in many cities across the nation.”

Nearly one-third of Alabama children live in families that experience food hardships, and the campaign’s goal is to move Alabama into the top 25 percent of states with the highest degree of child food security by 2020.  The End Child Hunger in Alabama campaign will mobilize resources to increase Alabama families’ economic stability; cultivate a strong regional food system; improve the food assistance safety net for children; support community action to increase children’s health and prevent obesity; and build public will to end childhood hunger.

“Hunger is a solvable problem,” said Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible – Alabama Poverty Project. “We have a range of resources – public, private, faith-based, and community-driven – to ensure that no child goes hungry. Let’s come together and take action.”

One solution to end child hunger is the Blessings in a Backpack program, which feeds elementary school children whose families qualify for the federal free and reduced meal program and may not have any or enough food on the weekends.  Huntsville’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School is Huntsville’s first Blessings in a Backpack site.  More than 95 percent of students at the school are on free or reduced meals, as compared to approximately 47 percent in the Huntsville City Schools system as a whole.

“When kids come to school hungry on Monday, it can lead to a host of academic and health issues. Blessings in a Backpack helps us meet students’ nutritional needs by getting food for the weekend into their homes,” said Jennifer Douthit, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School principal. “However, we need local donors and volunteers to make it happen.”

Blessings in a Backpack is funded solely through local donations, and it costs $80 to sponsor one student for the entire school year. Rocket Harley Davidson has partnered with King Elementary to help raise funds for Blessings in a Backpack.  Volunteers are also needed to help coordinate food purchasing, packing, and distribution to students in the Blessings in a Backpack program on a weekly basis.

Individuals and groups interested helping feed children by sponsoring Blessings in a Backpack should contact Jennifer Douthit, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School principal, at jennifer.douthit@hsv-k12.org or Vanessa Branning, Rocket Harley Davidson marketing coordinator, at VanessaB@sfe-us.com

End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) is a statewide campaign addressing the critical issues of hunger and food insecurity facing Alabama’s young citizens. It is the first outreach initiative for the Auburn University Hunger Solutions Institute. The mission of ECHA is to ensure Alabama’s younger generation is receiving an adequate amount of nutritious food in order to promote healthy growth and development. A child’s physical well-being and educational achievement depends upon the consumption of wholesome foods. For more information visit http://wp.auburn.edu/echa/

Blessings in a Backpack is a 501c(3) non-profit organization currently feeding nearly 62,000 children in 544 schools in 42 U.S. states. The program is a hybrid of private sector funding and public partnership carried out in public schools and leads to better test scores, improved reading skills, positive behavior, improved health, and increased attendance. For more information visithttp://www.blessingsinabackpack.org/

Alabama Possible-Alabama Poverty Project (APP) is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing systemic poverty and its root causes across Alabama. APP educates Alabamians about poverty, motivates colleges and faith-based institutions to engage in poverty-reduction activities, and advocates for fact-based policy decisions. APP was founded in 1993 and is based in Birmingham, AL. For more information visit http://www.alabamapossible.org