COLUMBIA - To continue helping local schoolchildren have healthy meals on weekends, the food bank has developed an "Adopt a Buddy" system to combat rising food costs.
Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, said there are 8,600 students in the Buddy Pack program, 1,551 of which live in Boone County. Every weekend, these students are provided with a backpack full of healthy foods so they have access to nutritious meals when they are not at school.
According to a news release from the food bank, the cost of the Buddy Pack program has risen during this school year. When the school year started, it was expected that providing one student with a Buddy Pack would cost $100 for the year. Now, estimates are up to $180 per student.
To help fund buddy packs, the food bank has developed an “Adopt a Buddy” system, said Kirkpatrick.
“It’s a way that people can take more ownership of the program, helping children in their county,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re not asking them to help adopt all 8,600.”
"Adopt a Buddy" is meant to counteract the rising costs of food and transportation. Kirkpatrick said if it does not do so, there will be a cut in the amount of buddy packs distributed.
“If we’re not able to raise enough money, we’re going to have to start cutting back as early as the start of February,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m believing God we won’t have to.”
In the past, the food bank has accepted donations for the buddy pack program, but donations went to support the whole program, not one specific county. Through the "Adopt a Buddy" plan, donations will go specifically to a child in the county specified by the donator, Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick also said the cuts will start in counties where support is not coming in. She said that Boone and Cole County children will continue to receive their buddy packs this year.
The Buddy Pack program started in 2005 and provided buddy packs to 300 students. Kirkpatrick said the program has been able to grow because people have responded to the need for it.
“The need is overwhelming,” Kirkpatrick said. “For instance, in our 32 counties that we cover, more than 56,000 children qualify for free or reduced lunches. As funding has become available, as people have become aware of it, as we have obtained grants, we have expanded the program.”
Kirkpatrick said the food bank has been looking for a way to support the program financially, and even spent $400,000 of reserve money over the last several months to support the program.
“We’ve been trying to stabilize the cost of this program for quite a while,” Kirkpatrick said. “We were struggling with helping communities in other counties to support their own program.”