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Backpack Buddies






While every child has access to nutritious breakfast and lunch during school, the same cannot be said for weekends and school breaks. The Backpack Buddies program was developed to help ensure that every child in the Bemidji school district has access to nutritious, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare food at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations.  The intended results of the program are: 

1)   children will no longer experience hunger or food insecurities; and,

2)   their attendance, behavior, academics, social interaction, health and attention span will improve.

Goal: Decrease the number of children that exhibit behaviors indicating and resulting from food insecurity and hunger

Target:  After 6 months of being enrolled in the program, 75% of the participants will show a decrease in behaviors that indicate food insecurity and hunger and an improvement in at least one of the following:  social interaction, attention span, physical and mental health, academics and attendance.

The food packs:  The program provides backpacks filled with food that is child friendly, nonperishable and easily consumed free of charge.  Average weekly menu: 2 entrees, 1 snack, 2 breakfast items, 1 vegetable, 2 fruits, and 2 milks, and 1 high protein.  The pre-packaged bags are purchased at around $3.18 each through North Country Food Bank.

The food packs are discretely distributed to children, as best determined by the school, on the last day before weekends and all scheduled school breaks/holiday breaks. 

  • PILOT PROGRAM 2010-11:  The program was successfully piloted at JW Smith Elementary during the 2010-11 school year thanks to support from North Country Health Services Foundation, North Country Food Bank and Paul Bunyan Communications. 

    It began mid November 2010 and ran through the end of the school year (June 2011) with 103 students participating.  More than 3,000 food packs were distributed. JW Smith was chosen because they have one of the highest percentage of children on free and reduced lunch and nearly one in five students have been identified as experiencing hunger and food insecurity.

  • 2011-12 PROGRAM:   More than 200 Bemidji are students that have been referred by school staff, as experiencing food insecurity or hunger, are enrolled in the Backpack Buddies program.  The program is running at JW Smith, Central, Lincoln, and emergency packs are provided through the District's homeless liaison at the middle and high school.  The program began on Oct 7, 2011 and will conclude mid-May 2012. Each student will receive a food pack on Friday and before a school break.



For as little as $4, we can provide a weekend food pack to a child that is experiencing hunger.


Did you know?

Poverty is a leading indicator to food insecurity and hunger.

        The most recent U.S. census data released shows poverty is on the rise in north central Minnesota.  More than 20% of people in Bemidji live in poverty (twice the state average).

In Beltrami County 25.2% children, ages 0-17, live in poverty (compared to U.S. 18%, State 13%).

Food insecurity impacts nearly 1 in 5 children.

·         Food insecurity, even at the least-severe end of the food security scale, has emerged as a highly prevalent risk to the growth, health, cognitive and behavioral potential of America’s poor and near poor children. 

·         School-age children who experience food insecurity and hunger are at increased risk for the following negative outcomes:   homelessness;  stressful life conditions;   psychiatric distress;     behavioral problems;   increased special education needs and lower learning and academic achievement; and,   internalizing behavior, including depression, anxiety, withdrawal and poor self-esteem. 

"Our concern and support for our families extends beyond the school day. It is not uncommon for many of our students to return to school on Monday morning and report that their last meal was school lunch the previous Friday. Although a typical two-day weekend is certainly an issue, the extended holiday and summer breaks pose an additional problem with increased family stress and financial insecurity. The students return to school hungry, frustrated, tired, and unprepared to face a full day of school. Their ability to learn is greatly impaired and the typical behavior of a tired and hungry child adds to the problem. Their ability to cope with socialization, follow directions, and simply enjoy their childhood is directly connected to the long lasting effects of poverty and hunger."   - Pat Welte, Principal JW Smith and Central Elementary