Hoosier Hunger Hero, Anne Brandt, a sixth-grade Social Studies teacher from West Lafayette, started a backpack program at her middle school to help her students facing food insecurity. The thought that her students might be food insecure kept her up at night, so she decided to mobilize
Anne’s journey toward realizing what students face outside of the school day started ten years ago when she taught at Klondike Elementary. Every Friday afternoon, staff filled backpacks with nutritious food for students to take home for the weekend. On Monday, the empty backpacks would return to be packed for the upcoming weekend, and the process continued.
For many students, the transition to Middle School meant that their chances of facing food insecurity increased as the program only serves elementary school students. Ms. Brandt knew the needs of students didn’t change from one building to the other. The lack of access to meals outside of school drove her to build a backpack program for middle school-aged students.
Ms. Brandt started building her backpack programs by meeting with churches in the community for support to obtain stakeholder buy-in. Two churches graciously supported the program by providing the funds needed to purchase the food items. In addition to local church involvement, Ms. Brandt also obtained support from student leaders that packed the meals and took ownership of the program.
Last year Ms. Brandt applied for a No Kid Hungry Indiana grant and received $5,000 to expand the backpack program to serve more students. The food purchased to create healthy backpack meals come from a local food bank, Food Finders. The food is non-perishable and easy to prepare, such as spaghetti with sauce, peanut butter and jelly, canned fruits, granola bars, ramen, cereal, milk, and much more.
With assistance from No Kid Hungry Indiana, the middle school sends home meals that are culturally appropriate as well. Food Finders and the school counselor assists Ms. Brandt in composing meals to fit students’ meal preferences.
The need to increase food access in Indiana is more important now as 1 in 6 kids could face hunger this year because of this pandemic, an increase of nearly 20,000 since the pandemic began. Ms. Brandt and her weekend backpack team continue to do this work and meet students where they are because no kid should be hungry at home. Students have enough worry on their plates, like academics and social pressures, that finding their next meal shouldn’t be one of them. An email Ms. Brandt received from a grateful parent sums the importance of this work best, “Just wanted to show appreciation for all the help the organization, through you, have rendered to my family these months…thank you for being such a blessing in our time of need.”
Ms. Brandt is just one of the thousands of Hoosier Hunger Heroes in Indiana. To read more about the work occurring in our state, click here. Additionally, if you are wanting to start a program like this – complete this form.
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