Crockett ISD Backpack Program

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – A child’s education doesn’t stop when the last bell of the day rings, but sometimes it takes a back seat to worries about food and if there will be dinner.

As a way of helping to overcome this food insecurity, the Crockett Independent School District has partnered with the East Texas Food Bank (ETFB) in what is known as the Backpack Program.

The program is designed “…to provide food for children who participate in free and reduced price meal programs during the week, but are at risk of going hungry on weekends and holidays,” according to the ETFB website.

Sheryl Patton, RN – the school nurse at CISD – was contacted recently and asked about the concept.

“It was started in the 90s by a school nurse in Arkansas. She was seeing kids who were trying to get ‘seconds’ and showing signs of being hungry at her school so, she started sending food home with them in their backpacks on Friday,” Patton explained.

The RN said the program grew from there and was adopted by many organizations, including the ETFB, which CISD has partnered with.

“We get our food from the East Texas Food Bank and it’s delivered to S.H.A.R.E. in Crockett,” the school nurse said. “Then, we have volunteers who bring the food from S.H.A.R.E. to the Early Childhood Campus and the elementary.”

She said this was the fifth year of the arrangement between CISD and the ETFB and while it is well-established, donations are always needed and welcomed.

“We usually are,” Patton replied when asked if the program was in need of donations. “What we do, if we have a balance, it carries over from last year. Usually, every fall we wonder how we’re going to fund it. So far, it has always worked out but some have voiced concern so, some feelers have been put out.”

Patton said the fund is managed at the ETFB offices in Tyler and while people have presented her with checks or cash donations, the donations should be given / made out to the ETFB.

“You will need to indicate the donation is for the Crockett ISD Back Pack Program. If you don’t indicate this, it goes into the general fund for the Back Pack Program and it is divided among the entire region,” she said.

As far as distribution of the backpacks, the RN explained students will come to the nurse’s office on Friday afternoon.

“We get parental permission and when they come to the nurse’s office most of them have their own backpack, so it’s not a backpack that stands out. If they don’t have a backpack, we will give them one,” she said.

The backpacks contain approximately seven pounds of food and they are packaged in a Ziploc bag, according to Patton. Inside the bag are two or three entrees, two to three servings of grain products, fruits and vegetables, shelf stable dairy products and juice.

“I was in training yesterday, (Thursday, Sept. 6) and I believe they said the cost was about $3.62 per week. For less than $4, you are getting seven pounds of nutritious food. At Thanksgiving, spring break, Christmas and other holidays, we send home extra to help cover the time,” Patton said.

In addition, CISD has instituted a program of breakfast in the classroom along with free lunch for all students, the nurse indicated.

Patton said breakfast in the classroom is a golden opportunity for teachers to observe the students so that they see which of the students eat everything and want seconds. Or, those who come in on Monday morning and seem very anxious to eat something.

“Our referrals come from the teachers and staff who make those observations,” she said. “We feel like we’re really doing something good.”

The mission of the Backpack Program is “… is to alleviate child hunger by providing hungry children with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food at times when food resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations,” according to the ETFB.

Donations can be made at the East Texas Food Bank located at 3201 Robertson Road in Tyler. For more information on the Back Pack program or for questions about monetary or food contributions, please call 903-597-3663.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.