For some students whose families experience food insecurity or hunger, the only consistent meals they eat may be the ones they receive at school. As a result, many students experience hunger on the weekends.
In 2008, the Montana Food Bank Network piloted a weekend meals program through discretely placing meals in the student’s backpacks while the student is out of the classroom for recess. The success of this pilot program has led to the statewide growth of “Backpack Meals.” Today, the Montana Food Bank Network partners with 131 schools to provide over 5,000 weekend “backpacks” for Montana children. Several food banks and schools have their own programs.
In Missoula, the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center provides weekend meals through their “Kids Empower Pack.” In Great Falls, the Great Falls Community Food Bank provides meals to all Great Falls Schools through their “Backpacks4Kids” program. And in Helena, nearly 1,000 backpack meals go home every weekend through their “Kid Packs” program.
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While “backpack meals” may be unique to each Montana community, a “back pack” will include enough food to replace the meals a child would receive in school (e.g., two breakfast options, two lunch options, two snack options, a can of fruit, and a can of vegetables).
Federal reimbursement is not available for the food provided by backpack programs. Most Montana backpack programs are run through food banks, food pantries, schools, and civic organizations that are already providing emergency and supplemental food assistance for families in need. These groups are dependent on grants, donations, and fundraisers to cover their costs.
The Town Pump Charitable Foundation began funding “backpack” programs in 2016.
Children experiencing hunger are more likely to have problems with memory and concentration because they do not have enough energy. The brain requires energy to function, and without the right nutrients, the brain cannot develop properly, resulting in long term eﬀects on learning abilities.
By providing kids with the nutrients they need when they are away from school, they show up on Monday morning healthy and ready to learn.
“Thank you for being a part of creating a hunger-free community. A community where kids don't have to fear the coming of the weekend because they aren't sure where or when their next meal will be coming. Thank you for helping to give these children the gift of childhood where they have enough food and nutrition to learn, to grow, and to play — you know, kid stuff.” - Bruce Day Executive Director Helena Food Share
In 2021, the Foundation awarded 84 grants totaling $525,000 to backpack programs. Organizations in the following communities received 2021 Meals for Backpacks grants totaling $525,000:
- Columbia Falls
- Cut Bank
- Deer Lodge
- Fort Benton
- Gold Creek
- Great Falls
- Hear t Butte
- Huntley Project
- Lame Deer
- Lodge Grass
- Lodge Pole
- Miles City
- Red Lodge
- Rocky Boy
- St. Ignatius
- St. Regis
- Thompson Falls/
- Wolf Point