While weekends mean bellies full of home-cooked food to some kids, other kids struggle to avoid hunger without school lunches.

The Northeast Iowa Food Bank BackPack Program's mission is to send kids home with nutritional food for the weekend. Registered kids are sent home with an unmarked backpack full of nutritional food the last day of the school week. Food can include oatmeal, cereal, macaroni and cheese, ravioli and fruit cups. Once a month a jar of peanut butter is included. The backpacks are returned the first day of the week, and the process begins again.

"It's another form of help," said Sally Hovden, organizer of the Decorah program. "It's really concentrating on the kids."

Food and bags are delivered from the Food Bank to Decorah's Congregational Church. About 10 volunteers pack the bags and deliver them to the school offices. Food is intended to feed the child receiving it, not his or her entire family. Not every child in a family needs to take a backpack.

Hovden, a substitute teacher for the Decorah School District, said she saw a need for the program. The program is already in place at South Winneshiek, North Winneshiek and Turkey Valley schools.

"On Monday you can tell kids aren't getting fed over the weekend," she said. Those who are hungry aren't always as alert and focused as kids receiving good nutrition, according to program materials.

That inspired Hovden and her mom, Judy Mallam, to bring the BackPack Program to Decorah. They started in February. By the time school ended in May, 53 bags were sent home each week. Students from all school levels participated, but the largest group was at the elementary, she said.

Hovden said she expects to see an increase in the number of backpacks each week, potentially double from last year.

"We're ready for those numbers," she said of the second year of the program.

Parents need to return a signed registration form to participate. Forms will be available at school registration from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at the middle and high school buildings, or from school administrative assistants throughout the year. There are no financial qualifications.

Forms are filed at the school, and the system is confidential.

"We don't really even know any names," Hovden said. The administrative assistants let them know if there are more or fewer backpacks needed week to week, but not where they go, she said.

"We're looking forward to a fulfilling year of helping kids," she said.



South Winneshiek

Parents and guardians interested in participating can contact the guidance counselors: Mary Kleve at the middle/elementary counselor and Connie Euans at the high school. About 60 kids take advantage of the program, according to Superintendent Chris Hoover.



Turkey Valley

Amanda Lawless-Anderson, guidance counselor at Turkey Valley, is the person to contact to participate in the program.



North Winneshiek

The program has been offered at North Winneshiek for the past two years. The first year about 50 packs were sent, and the second about 20, said Carol McCabe, a volunteer for the program in the district. If there's an interest from families they'll do it again this year, she said. Sign-up is through school administrative assistants year-round.