COLUMBIA — There are 54,000 elementary school children in 32 central Missouri counties who qualify for a Food Bank program called Buddy Packs, but right now, the program only has enough money to reach 6,300 students. It is expected to grow soon.
The program was started five years ago by the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, said Bobbie Kincade, the Food Bank's director of development. Children who qualify are given a backpack full of healthy and kid-friendly food every Friday at school to take home and eat.
Every Monday, students bring the backpacks to school, and the cycle repeats. The purpose of the Buddy Pack program is to provide nutritious snacks to children who might not have access to such foods at home.
According to the Food Bank's website, Buddy Packs may include:
- Peanut butter crackers
- Pop-top canned fruits
- Pop-top canned soup
- 100 percent fruit juice
- Granola bars
- Peanut butter in plastic jars
Any child who qualifies for free or a reduced lunch at school is eligible for the program, which operates in 126 schools across central Missouri. Students are chosen to participate in the program by school officials, who determine which students have the most need for the Buddy Packs.
The cost of Buddy Packs is a little more than $100 per child each school year, Kincade said.
"We are trying to grow the Buddy Pack program to explain what the need is," Kincade said.
After a meeting Thursday at which the program was discussed, Kincade said the Buddy Packs are expected to reach 8,500 students in the next school year.
More information on the Buddy Pack program, including donation information, can be found at the Food Bank's website. The Food Bank is also trying to win a $100,000 grant from Walmart that, if obtained, would go toward funding the Buddy Pack program.