Providing Nutritious Foods to Kids through a Summer BackPack Program

by Alicia Linares Grant Writer, Central California Food Bank

Thanks to a grant from Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation through Feeding America, Central California Food Bank was able to expand its BackPack program this year into the summer months by working with local summer enrichment programs in our service area to provide a weekly bag of food to children. In addition to a bag of shelf-stable items, we provide sites with seasonal fresh produce such as carrots, squash, bell peppers, strawberries, and cantaloupe for children to take home.

Providing nutritious foods to kids is one of our primary goals through the BackPack program. During the school year, we provide a bag of food each week to children at 15 schools in areas of concentrated poverty in Central California. Children participating in the program are selected by their teachers as being the most at risk for chronic hunger. The intent is that children have food to eat at home over the weekend, as many children rely on school-provided meals as their main source of food during the week.

Our program meets children where they are in order to provide a weekly bag of food while they are attending a summer program. As school meals are no longer available, the summer months are a time of year in which many children are at-risk for experiencing food insecurity. We deliver the food bags and fresh produce to 11 sites operating summer enrichment programs for kids. Our sites include community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, schools, summer camps, and other nonprofit organizations.

Our Summer BackPack program focusses efforts in Fresno and Tulare Counties of Central California, both of which suffer from high rates of child food insecurity, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap. Child Food Insecurity data show rates of 26.7% for Tulare County and 26.2% for Fresno County. These two counties have the highest rates of child food insecurity among the five counties we serve (Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare, and Kern).

Providing children access to nutritious foods is especially important in Fresno and Tulare Counties, where low-income families face barriers to affording and accessing healthy foods. High rates of poverty in our service area restricts many families from acquiring the food they need, but those living in rural areas of Central California face the added challenge of limited geographical access to foods that are healthy. Low-income neighborhoods and rural communities often lack full-service grocery stores, and are instead saturated with corner stores and fast-food outlets serving unhealthy foods.

Children from low-income households and those living in rural communities in Central California need access to nutritious foods and fresh fruit and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet and experience better health outcomes. Improper nutrition due to poverty and limited access to healthy foods contributes to the high rates of asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity that are prevalent among children in Central California (California Department of Public Health, 2015).

This summer, our BackPack program will provide approximately 4,000 food bags to children from low-income neighborhoods. Each food bag contains at least 10 pounds of food and can be used to prepare approximately 12 individual meals. The food is designed to supplement the entire household’s food supply with foods that can be used to prepare family meals. When we provide fresh fruits and vegetables along with the food bags, this provides a balance of foods that can be used to prepare complete, nutritious meals for the whole family.

Alicia Linares is the Grant Writer for Central California Food Bank in Fresno, California. She has been with the organization for two years, and enjoys finding new grants to help provide food and other resources to under-served children and families. Alicia graduated from California State University, Stanislaus with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. Her passion is writing, and her goal is to help people in need.