MFB New England partner Fern Street Backpacks blessing families
Backpacks not only hold books and homework. For some students, backpacks are how food is sent home for the weekend.Fern Street Backpacks is one of the food partners of Midwest Food Bank New England. They receive food, without charge, from MFB to put in the backpacks sent home to students in West Hartford Public Schools.
"We hope to provide sustenance for children over the weekend between the free lunch on Friday and the free breakfast at school on Monday," says Katherine Wilson, coordinator for the Fern Street Backpack program.
About 25 percent of West Hartford Public School students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Fern Street provides backpacks for approximately 125 kindergarten through high school students. They also provide that support during the summer through the public libraries.Each student and family has a specific story of why these backpacks make a difference.
"Mama M is a single mother in recovery from addiction, battling breast cancer and living in a small basement apartment with her teenage daughter," says Katherine. This mother doesn't have transportation and has limited mobility, so Fern Street Backpacks goes beyond the backpack program by making home deliveries to Mama M, often through her living room window.
"She is full of determination and overflowing with gratitude," says Katherine. "We go to her with weekly home deliveries of some of what she lacks - household supplies, lunch snacks and drinks, and basic staple food and household items."
Providing these food and household items is an ongoing challenge for MFB's food partners. On average, MFB partner agencies saw a 25% increase in demand over the last year.
"The pandemic was very difficult. Everybody's supply of food was hard to find. Then, along came Midwest Food Bank as a partner, and it changed everything for us," says Katherine. "MFB provides needed items for backpacks like breakfast cereal, granola bars, and healthy food items."
It's about more than just receiving food from MFB, though. MFB staff specifically work to try to ensure appropriate items for backpack programs are available.
"That extra effort makes a huge difference in my ability to access the food we need," says Katherine. "It builds a special relationship between all of us, too. We're all in it together, and we lift each other up with our optimism and generosity."
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