A $5,000 grant recently awarded to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri will help provide weekly Buddy Packs to 50 to 60 Maries County R-2 Elementary School students who suffer from food …
A $5,000 grant recently awarded to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri will help provide weekly Buddy Packs to 50 to 60 Maries County R-2 Elementary School students who suffer from food insecurity.
Grant funds were provided by Three Rivers’ Helping Hands Community Foundation from Three Rivers Electric Cooperative members who round up their electric bills to the nearest dollar each month. The funds help to assist community service providers to improve neighborhoods and communities and help individuals and families with catastrophic illness, medical needs, or with disaster relief.
The funding from helping Hands Foundation will assist in providing 714 Buddy Packs to students in Osage, Miller, and Cole counties in addition to Maries County.
Seth Wolfmeyer, the media relations specialist for the Food Bank, explained the cost of a Buddy Pack on Monday afternoon.
“The current cost on each Buddy Pack is $270 — it will cover the cost of a Buddy for one student for the full school year, approximately $7.50 is the cost of one pack,” Wolfmeyer said. “It includes food, transportation, storage and staff. It serves 7,500 students and it takes organization to make that happen.”
The cost of the packs is fluid, especially with the recent changes made to the delivery system within the food bank’s 32-county service area since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019.
“With the former system, we would bring in different foods and have the district distribute the items,” Wolfmeyer said. “We would assemble the items ourselves using volunteers across the service areas.”
However, because of the pandemic, volunteers were not allowed to gather in large groups and forced a change in the system.
“We now purchase the packs pre-assembled,” he said. “It reduces the need for volunteers within the organization and makes the packs more diverse.”
The food bank is able to frequently change items within their orders and have more nutritious foods, according to Wolfmeyer.
“We do use Buddy Banks as storage facilities, but not quite to the same level as it used to be,” he said.
With a decreased need for packing the items, transportation has become the food bank’s main concern.
“A lot of it is just trucks on the road, getting food to where it needs to go,” Wolfmeyer said.
Belle Elementary School (BES) happens to be one of those places, and BES Counselor Heidi Krieg happens to keep track of those students in need within her district.
“I distribute the backpacks here at school,” Krieg said. “We are really well-taken care of by Barb Howarth and her church members.”
Howarth and the church members used to be the packers of the backpack buddies before the pandemic. They still help to unload the truck and packed bags.
“The truck arrives at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays,” Krieg said.
Students sign up for the Buddy Backpack Program at the beginning of the year.
“It is kept confidential and is a resource that is available, that if someone reads about it, they can join and we can change numbers if we need to,” Krieg said.
Wolfmeyer added one more important fact. The items are provided by many different entities.
“For people donating, the easiest way to do that is to visit www.ShareFoodBringHope.org,” Wolfmeyer said. “You can donate Buddy Packs and choose a county to donate to. If you want to donate to your hometown you have the option to do that.”
A two-person grant team also ensures that the food bank is consistently looking for opportunities in the local communities to continue to fund the program and make sure the funds are being spent wisely.
“It is such a substantial program change we are calling them new Buddy Packs,” Wolfmeyer said. “One of the most important things is packs are varied and more exciting for the kids. We are always trying to think about what makes packs more enjoyable and kid-friendly.”
People looking to get help with food can find a list of resources on the website listed above and should remember that it is a free service.
“We bring food in and provide it to the schools at no cost so they can give it to students,” he said. “The schools deserve credit because they are identifying students for the program and making sure it gets into those hands.”