WEST PLAINS, Mo. – According to the homeless liaison, 66 percent of the West Plains School District qualifies for free and reduced meals. Employees and community members worry how students eat, or if they eat when they are not at school. That’s why one woman took the lives of hundreds of children into her own hands by spearheading the backpack and bridges program in West Plains.
“We want to be the savior of that family to keep it intact so the kids can concentrate on education because education really is the only way out of poverty,” said Cyndi Wright, Bridges Coordinator.
With the help of community support, the Bridges program is able to fill a room with food and necessities throughout the school year for students to take home for free.
“Sometimes children don’t have food in the evening or on the weekend. Their last meal could be Friday at noon with their free and reduced price meal program,” said Dr. Julie Williams, Assistant Superintendent West Plains Public Schools.
Williams said that’s why West Plains started the Backpack Program sending home full meals for the weekend.
“The kids that receive backpacks they know on Friday that I’m going to be delivering their food for the weekend and they watch for me,” said Michelle Miller, West Plains Elementary Counselor.
Miller said the students, and even their families, count on that food to get them by.
“They may be sharing their meals with 10 people in a household that were only meant for four,” said Amy Ross, Homeless Liaison.
“They light up they want to sometimes know if they can have extras for their siblings. I could easily fill another 100 slots and that shows you what the need is,” said Miller.
The women behind the program said it would not be possible without the help of the entire community, who makes the program a priority in their lives.
“I’m fortunate to live in a community that number one recognizes the need but also rises up each week to meet this need,” Miller said.
“It actually takes churches, community efforts rotary clubs, Kiwanis, other not for profits in the community and everyone working together,” said Williams.
Or without the relationships, the teachers and counselors have with the students.
“They’re the ones telling us I’m hungry, do you have any food,” said Miller.
For high school students who are hungry, they know whose classroom to go to for help.
“She keeps snack that is provided by the Bridges in her room and kids know during the day if they get hungry to run by Mrs.York’s room and she will provide them snacks to get through the day,” Wright said.
Organizers told us instead of handing out several meals during summer and holiday breaks, vouchers are handed out for students to buy food or else many may not have meals until they come back to school.