TANEY COUNTY, Mo.- Gift of Hope’s Backpack food program started back up this month with the beginning of the school year.
The non-profit works with eight school districts throughout Taney County to provide food for children on the weekends. Most of these children participate in free and reduced-price meal programs during the week but are at risk of going hungry on weekends and holidays.
“We help children and families in need, and the why really is the children,” said Jennifer Costello, the director of Gift of Hope. “They don’t have a choice in their situations in life, and so we want to help them to make their lives easier so that they don’t have to think where their next meal is gonna come from or if their electric is going to stay in their house or if they’re going to get kicked out of their house. So we want to help the children because they don’t have a voice.”
Caring teachers and staff members identify children who show signs of hunger or malnutrition and discreetly distribute food bags into the students’ backpacks each week. The backpacks come filled with nutritious, easy-to-open food that does not require stove-top cooking or refrigeration. For some children, this food is supplemental, but for many, it is the only food they will have to eat all weekend.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Gift of Hope served almost 1,000 children across Taney County, distributing a total of more than 33,840 backpacks. Even with schools closing in Mid-March due to COVID-19, the program continued to provide food to the children that needed it.
The schools and Gift of Hope just had to re-think the distribution process. Many schools had designated pickup days; staff hand-delivered the backpacks, the bags were delivered through the school bus route or a combination of the three.
With this school year having so many unknowns, Gift of Hope Director Jennifer Costello said that “Thankfully, if schools do need to shut down again, we already have a solid plan in place to make sure this essential program continues, and children won’t go hungry.”
Gift of Hope is a local 501c3 with the mission of “Providing essentials and pathways to independence for Taney County families.” To learn more about their programs, you can visit their website.