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Expanding backpack program brings food to families across the district

group stands behind table with backpacks and foodA backpack program, which provides food to students and families in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District, has expanded throughout the district thanks to collaboration with community partners. Three years ago, A.W. Becker began a backpack program for families in the elementary school, working with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY. Last school year, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office brought RCS together with more community partners, Capital District Physicians Health Plan (CDPHP) and ShopRite, to grow the program, along with the Regional Food Bank.

food in backpackOn Thursday, Nov. 15, the district and its partners formally announced the expansion of the backpack program into Pieter B. Coeymans, RCS Middle School and RCS High School. Officials estimate the new backpack and pantry program will initially help 40-50 more families. RCS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Fred Engelhardt, says the district is able to ensure that its students receive a consistent supply of nutritious meals throughout the week with the breakfast and lunch offerings. However, he says, weekends are a different story as some of those students do not have that same access to food.

“We’re very thankful to have amazing community partners, who have allowed us to increase our backpack program in our schools to give our students the ability to have a regular supply of meals on the weekends,” Engelhardt said.

The program is important in each of the schools as a recent USDA study revealed that between 20 and 30 percent of low income households with children in the US struggle with food security. Often those children may be left with little food while their parents are working and are especially in need during the holiday breaks when school meals are not available.

“The goal of the pantry is to help students who are struggling with food insecurity,” Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said. “Many children who are hungry struggle to concentrate and have behavioral issues, as well as physical and mental health concerns. We want them to be able to focus on school without worrying about being hungry. When kids do well in school it is better for us all.”