GREAT FALLS – The Great Falls Community Food Bank is expanding its Backpack for Kids program to serve all 15 public elementary schools in Great Falls.
Great Falls Community Food Bank Executive Director Shaun Tatarka says they expect the amount of backpacks needed to increase.
“We always say, ‘you can’t learn on an empty stomach.’ If some of these children are going to break the poverty, they need to be fed,” Tatarka said.
Through the backpack program, a child receives two meals for the weekend. On Fridays, a teacher will place the bag of food inside the child’s backpack before the end of the school day.
“The teachers and school counselors of Great Falls Public Schools are all trained to spot hunger,” Tatarka said.
There is no criteria for a student to receive a backpack; in other words, parents do not need to meet an income requirement.
“A hungry child in a classroom is going to affect all students in the classroom,” Tatarka said.
Each bag costs roughly $3, and the Great Falls Community Food Bank’s annual cost is around $80,000.
“We know hunger is everywhere, event at the wealthier schools,” Tatarka said.
Tatarka says not only do these backpacks make a huge difference in the lives of kids who need them, but they also benefit the entire classroom.
“If a teacher has to deal with a student because they are hungry, it affects all students. In a way, really when you contribute to the backpack program, you are really helping all the children of Great Falls,” Tatarka said.
The bank relies on monetary donations to purchase the items for the backpacks.
“I come in contact every day with generous people and that is really inspiring. Children have no choice. Why they are hungry doesn’t concern me. Our job is to get these children fed,” Tatarka said.
Reporting by Elizabeth Transue for MTN News