Putnam County legislators want to combat hunger.
To ensure children across Putnam don’t go hungry when they’re not in school, lawmakers discussed starting up the BackPack program last week during a health committee meeting.
The program, run by Feeding America, provides children with easy-to-prepare food so they have enough to eat over the weekends and other days off from school. Items are discreetly put into a child’s backpack by volunteers so they aren’t judged by other classmates. The idea is being spearheaded by Legislator Toni Addonizio, who heard about the program several years ago from her daughter, who is a teacher.
“It would be a wonderful idea for Putnam County,” Addonizio said.
Cornell Cooperative Extension executive director Stefanie Hubert said with the demographics changing
in the county, the program would be an important resource for students. She said in the Brewster school system, about 30 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Throughout all of Putnam, about 15 percent of youth deal with food insecurity as of 2017, Hubert said.
Programs like BackPack exists so students are still able to eat over vacations and weekends, Hubert said.
Speaking with school superintendents, Addonizio said they were receptive to the idea. Students that need to accrue volunteer hours could help pack book bags, Addonizio said the school chiefs told her. A meeting with every school superintendent will be held at a later date.
The program would not tap into taxpayer money, but instead funding would come from donations and sponsors, Addonizio said, with local food pantries involved. School districts can apply for grants, as well.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, who works for the Brewster school system, said people in the county typically step up when others in the community are in need of help, and she’d expect the same in this case. Legislator Nancy Montgomery said she thinks the legislature should send a letter of support that schools systems can use when grants are applied for.
“A little bit of outreach and we certainly can go a long way,” Hubert said. “It is a need that needs to be addressed.”