Last month, Arbor Heights Elementary collected 228 pounds of food during “Random Acts of Kindness Week” to support their Weekend Backpack Program. Of the 52,000 students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools, approximately 20,000 qualify for free and reduced lunch,
and many do not get enough to eat over the weekend.
Below is an interview with Arbor Heights Social Worker and Counselor Rosslyn Shea, who started their school’s Backpack Program three years ago. She shares why she started the program and offers tips for school groups that are interested in starting their own backpack program.
SCPTSA: How did the Arbor Heights Backpack Program get started?
Rosslyn Shea: It was started because a number of students would come to me complaining that they were hungry and did not have enough food at home. Some of them were eligible for free and reduced lunch, so they had meals during the school week. This lack of food at home is why I started the backpack program. Arbor Heights was the first school in West Seattle to start a Backpack Program in 2013 after I advocated strongly due to high need. Today, there are nine West Seattle schools with backpack programs serving a total of 250 students with the numbers likely to increase in the coming months. The West Seattle Food Bank has been a great partner in this effort.
SCPTSA: How does the Backpack Program work?
Rosslyn Shea: I have primarily been the one who went to pick up the boxes of food from the food bank and then assembled them into individual bags. This school year I have been fortunate to have a volunteer do the pick up from the food bank once a week. Then, we assemble the bags together the same day the food is picked up.
SCPTSA: How does your food drive support your Backpack Program?
Rosslyn Shea: In order to ensure that the program is successful, it is helpful to also do a food drive to support the program. We partner with the West Seattle Food Bank, and every February during Random Acts of Kindness week I organize a food drive where we request donations from our school community for food items for the Backpack Program.
SCPTSA: What tips do you have for schools or groups that want to start a Backpack Program
For those schools considering starting a backpack program. I would suggest that they make sure they have the support of a food bank, as well as a cadre of volunteers who will run the program, because it’s a lot of work.
SCPTSA How are the backpacks delivered to students?
Rosslyn Shea: At my school I’m the one who delivers the backpacks to the students. For confidentiality reasons, it’s not appropriate for a volunteer to know who is receiving the backpacks, so a staff member would have to be the point person for getting names of students in need of the backpacks, as well as ensuring that they get the backpacks.
SCPTSA: What kinds of items or foods are needed?
Rosslyn Shea: We have a flyer of suggested food items. Depending on the demographics of a school, some items are discouraged. For example, I request no pork for my school.
SCPTSA: Can we make a food donation any time of the year?
Rosslyn Shea: Food donations can be made directly to the West Seattle Food Bank at any time of the year. Cash donations are also accepted. Visit www.westseattlefoodbank.org for drop-off times and more information.
How to fight student hunger in your community
If you would like to make a food or cash donation to support student hunger in a region other than West Seattle, please contact SCPTSA Student Hunger Coordinator Kim Enochs.
For more information about starting or contributing to a Backpack Program in your school community, visit our Student Hunger page.