News 18 Investigates: Hunger in the Classroom

Nearly 25,000 children in Tippecanoe and the 15 surrounding counties don't know where their next meal is coming from.

Posted: May 1, 2018 5:56 PM
Updated: May 1, 2018 6:21 PM

TIPPECANOE CO., Ind. (WLFI) — Nearly 25,000 children in Tippecanoe and the 15 surrounding counties don't know where their next meal is coming from.

To help relieve some of the problems, Food Finders Food Bank organizes backpack programs.

Those give children in need a backpack full of food to take home from school each weekend, but the program is in jeopardy at one Lafayette school.

More than 30 children at Earhart Elementary school take home a backpack full of food from school each weekend. It's filled with kid-friendly items that insure they have food to eat when they're not at school, but the program could be no more if someone doesn't step up and help.

"How do I get food? Where am I going to get my food from? That's something students shouldn't have to be worrying about," said Woodland Elementary Second Grade Teacher Jenelle Holmes.

Food insecurity is a harsh reality for many students in Tippecanoe County. Schools can only feed two meals a day, five days a week.

"There may be children that it's not obvious that they're going hungry on the weekend, and we're missing those kids."

That's where Food Finders Food Banks backpack program comes into play.

In the 2016 to 2017 school year, it supplied 101,000 backpacks to children in 16 counties each week.

"We put nutritious food that's kid friendly and easily prepared in the backpacks," said Food Finders Executive Director Katy Bunder.

It's been a blessing for single mother of two Samantha.

"It's helped me quite a bit to make sure that my children are eating nutritious lunches," she said. "I don't have to worry if this week there's a bill or there's rent due that they're not going to get lunch that week."

Samantha didn't want to reveal her identity, but she said she works two part-time jobs in order to take care of her two children.

"It definitely makes it easier because it's just random things that come in there, but you can kind of piece together meals or make sides to go along with your meal," explained Samantha.

But the program could be going away at Earhart Elementary during the 2018 to 2019 school year.

"Right now we don't have funding for that program," said Bunder.

That leaves Samantha's and 35 other families without that extra food.

"I'll have to budget a little bit differently and then I think it will probably affect the other families as well because I think they rely on it just the same as me," she added.

Food Finders Executive Director Katy Bunder said it takes about $8,000 to fund the program at Earhart for the year.

She wishes they could expand it to more children.

"I really wish that we could give the backpack program to every child that's in the free lunch program," Bunder said. "That way we wouldn't be depending on teachers or guidance counselors noticing that a child was coming to school hungry."

Bunder said all it takes is a few volunteers to step up and make sure the children can go home with food to eat over the weekend.

Without it, Samantha said she may have to skip out on things her family needs.

"Rent comes first and bills, ya know," said Samantha. "If the kids need things and so probably toiletries or things for the house or you know, extra things that the kids want to do. Cut back on things like that."

For more information on how to help keep the backpack programs going call 765 471-0062, or click here.

The backpack program is just one way local schools are able to help feed students.

Wednesday on News 18 at 6, we'll take a look at the growing number of students on free and reduced school meals and what teachers say would happen if they weren't available.

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