Gaines said coordinators and teachers look for students who display signs of not getting enough nutrition, “anything from physical signs like cracked lips, weight loss, or difficulty concentrating to emotional/academic signs” as well as a sudden change in demeanor, declining grades or erratic attendance.
There were about 40 students receiving backpacks at Heronville in the fall. Now it's 36 with more being added in the school of 964 students, Fierro said.
At the beginning of the year, Fierro sent teachers and staff a training presentation regarding the program.
“The training informs the staff on how to know if a child is chronically hungry by looking at appearance, school performance, and what we know from the home environment,” Fierro said. “If the teacher believes the child fits this criteria, they fill out a Food for Kids referral form and turn it in to me and I make sure their name goes on our list and get them their own backpack and snacks as soon as I can.
“I also check if that referred student has any siblings at our school or at home, who can eat solids, and send home a snack bag for those children as well.”
The food bank started the backpack program in January 2003 in response to a firsthand account of an Oklahoma City elementary student who fainted on a Monday while waiting in the school lunch line, Gaines said.
The program was launched in five Oklahoma City schools serving 180 children.
It now serves 475 elementary schools in 53 counties across central and western Oklahoma, providing backpacks to more than 13,500 chronically hungry children each week during the 2011-12 school year. The program continues to expand, with new schools added each semester.
“The food bank personnel are always so helpful and polite from the person who changes the number of children served to the truck driver who delivers our snack boxes,” Fierro said. “I am so thankful to just be a part of this entire process.”