Most Fridays during the school year, some 320 Wawasee students in grades kindergarten through fifth are sent home with backpacks containing food items. Food is provided to children enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program.
More precisely, the backpacks are part of the Boomerang Backpack program, which started in the East Noble school district in 2008 and began in the spring of 2010 for Wawasee elementary schools. At that time, the program was launched due to the fact the free and reduced lunch rate had increased significantly from 30 percent to 50 percent for the Wawasee district.
Since the Boomerang Backpack program is in its fifth year in the Wawasee district, funding it has become more of a challenge and has declined. Grants and community donations are not what they once were and the cost of food is rising, too.
Connie Geer, Boomerang Backpack coordinator for Wawasee, noted it costs about $2.60 to $2.70 to feed each student per week. There are 29 weeks in the 2014-15 academic year, meaning the total cost comes to approximately $25,000. “Our funding comes from businesses, service clubs and individuals in the community,” she said. “We have received grants, as well, from area foundations.”
Currently, she said, enough funds are available to cover the first half of the school year. Additional funding sources are being explored and more community donations are needed.
“Wawasee Community School elementary students benefit greatly from the Boomerang Backpack program,” said Dr. Tom Edington, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corp. “Those who qualify for free or reduced lunches receive nutritious food for weekends. While we’d all like to think that sending food for children on weekends shouldn’t be necessary that is not always the case. We thank all of our community partners who work with the Boomerang Backpack program on this effort.”
Janell Eltzroth, Syracuse Elementary kindergarten teacher, said “Fifty percent of my class receives Boomerang Backpacks each week. For most, this provides students with a weekend of hassle free meals that are ready when students are hungry. Unfortunately, many of my students are responsible for their own meals over the weekend. This is their only source of a well balanced meal. It can be difficult to think of a five year old being responsible for feeding himself/herself, but it is the reality of many families today. Boomerang Backpacks help ease the stress of the next meal.”
Geer said the goal of the program is to “eliminate food insecurity that many students experience on the weekend, and to improve health and concentration for a good start to the school week.” She noted similar programs across the country have proven to increase attendance and test scores.
Typically a backpack will include two protein items, two carbohydrate items, one piece of fruit, one juice and two breakfast items. Foods are low in sugar, high in fiber or protein and easily prepared.
High school students volunteer to organize and pack the food and then deliver it to the three elementary schools.
Donations can be sent to Wawasee High School, Attn: Kerry Murphy, #1 Warrior Path, Syracuse IN 46567. Make checks payable to Boomerang Backpacks. Another option is to sponsor one child for a school year at a cost of $80.
For additional information, visit boomerangbackpacks.org, or contact Geer at (574) 457-5593 or email [email protected]