In 2014, foodservice director Melanie Lagasse began a take-home backpack program at New Sweden Consolidated School in New Sweden, Maine, to help food-insecure students. Now the foodservice manager for MSAD 33, MSAD 27 and Madawaska School Department in Fort Kent, Maine, Lagasse has continued the program, which she says has grown every year since its inception.
What are some of the food items you send home with students? Are they donated by the community?
I send home two breakfast items, two cans of fruit, two cans of vegetables and two meals along with snacks and juice. Usually you will find cereal, muffin mix or Pop-Tarts, canned fruit and vegetables as well as maybe mac and cheese, pasta and sauce, peanut butter, canned meat, a bottle of juice and snacks like fruit gummies, peanut butter crackers and granola bars. There are some businesses that will hold food drives, but most of my food items come from Good Shepherd Food Bank.
How has the program evolved over the years?
The program has become more widespread, and I have found that every year the need grows. I have added more people every year and my program has taken on a life of its own. Last year, I served 74 students on a weekly basis.
Do you have any advice to share with other FSDs who are looking to start a take-home backpack program in their district?
There is no federal funding for this program, so every hour I spend is volunteer and I can expect people to volunteer on this program every week. If you are looking to start a program like this in your district, be prepared to spend many hours looking for donations, attending organizational meetings, writing grants, etc. But in the end, when you know you have made a difference in someone’s weekend by making sure that they are fed, your heart will be happy and you know that you have done a good deed and that person will be thankful.