Southwest Florida is rallying to feed hungry children. Blessings in a Backpack SWFL this year served more children than all but one other local chapter of the nationwide nonprofit organization that serves 87,300 children in nearly 1,092 schools across 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The Southwest Florida program gave more than 4,300 elementary school students in Lee and Collier counties nutritious, kid-friendly meals to take home on the weekends, a time frame the federal free and reduced-price school lunch program doesn’t cover.
“I’m so thrilled with the support our community has shown — it’s making a huge impact,” said Cecilia St. Arnold, executive director of Blessings in a Backpack SWFL. “As great as this is, we’re so far away from reaching the number we need to feed all the hungry children in the area.”
More than 60,000 elementary school students in Lee and Collier counties receive free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches during the week. Blessings in a Backpack SWFL continues its push to fill in the gaps on the weekends for all of them. The program has already received enough funding to feed 4,500 children next school year and expand to at least two new schools. St. Arnold has no intention of stopping there.
“So many children are counting on us,” she said. “Food is a basic necessity. No child should ever have to go without it.”
Poor nutrition can result in a weaker immune system, increased hospitalization, lower IQ, shorter attention span and lower academic achievement. The majority of children whom Blessings in a Backpack has served have fewer behavioral issues, show up at school more often and find it easier to learn.
Blessings in a Backpack SWFL makes it easy to help. A tax-deductible donation of $100 provides a child with food on the weekends for an entire school year. The organization seeks volunteers and corporate partners as well. Visit blessingsinswfl.org to see how you can make a difference.