School, community organizes Operation Backpack

Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor

Operation Backpack, a program that sends food home with selected students for the weekend, is coming to Monticello.

Through the organizational work of Al Polito of the Monticello Ministerial Association, in conjunction with school superintendent Chris Anderson, the program is taking shape and is expected to begin soon.

The goal is to place plastic shopping bags filled with non-perishable food items into the backpacks of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, for the students to take home for the weekend.

“They’ll be distributed to the families as discreetly as possible,” Polito said.

The idea was discussed two years ago, and came together again in September, when a committee including several school officials got together and made plans.

A letter was sent to the families of eligible students. A total of 42 students were signed up for the program.

Studies have linked good nutrition with academic success. Poor nutrition can have immediate and long-term effects on a child’s health and academic performance.

The food will come from the HACAP Food Reservoir in Hiawatha. HACAP will collect the food and prepare pallets of it. Because the Monticello Community School District makes trips to Cedar Rapids for electronic supplies and other reasons on a weekly basis, the food will be picked up and brought back to Monticello, where it will be stored at the high school.

A list of sample items for one food pack, according to Polito, would include the following:

One box shelf-stable milk

One box fruit punch

One package instant oatmeal

One box macaroni and cheese

One cup applesauce

One cup peaches

One box apple juice

One box Cheerios

One cheesy tuna skillet dinner

One can tuna

One jar peanut butter

One box wheat thins

Other types of items may include, but are not limited to: canned chicken, microwave popcorn, nuts or trail mix, chili, graham crackers, fresh fruit, breakfast bars, cereal, canned vegetables, fruit snacks, personal care items and granola bars.

“You’re talking about enough food to last a child the weekend, that if they need to, they could (prepare) it themselves,” Polito said. “It’s mostly microwave, quick food kind of things.”

Polito estimated that the program will cost between $4,500 and $5,000 between now and the end of the school year.

More than half that money has been raised, as several local organizations have stepped up to donate funds. Citizens State Bank donated $2,500, the Monticello Rotary Club has donated $500, and Bank of the West has also contributed. Further support is coming from the Monticello Ministerial Association.

The Monticello Men’s Choir will take free will donations for its Jan. 27 (2 p.m.) concert at First Presbyterian Church, and donate those to Operation Backpack.

“We always look for a potential beneficiary,” said Creighton Randolph of the men’s chorus. “The backpack program came up in discussion this year. Everybody envisions a day when this won’t be necessary.”

Other organizations are encouraged to donate as well, Polito said.

Anderson said: “This is going to be a really big deal for the kids who receive (the food). This is a very giving community, and we really appreciate what folks are willing to do for kids who are having a little rougher go of it right now.”