CHAMPAIGN — That children sometimes go hungry at home hit Champaign parent Jenelle Keene when she was volunteering on a Robeson School field trip. A kindergartner asked Keene to hold onto her lunch so she could take it home, adding that she would feed the cup of applesauce to her baby sister.
Parent Ann Kirkland realized the need when she saw a list of local food pantries on Westview social worker Lisa Mosley's bulletin board. Mosley told her that so many people asked for that information that she posted it, in case someone came by when she wasn't around.
One local program through Eastern Illinois Foodbank that provides food for students during the weekend is called the BackPack Program. (Previously, it was known as BackPack Buddies.)
The program started in 2005 and saw rapid growth. As a result, the food bank started requiring schools that wanted to join the program to have an 80 percent or higher rate of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
That requirement started in the 2011-12 school year.
The program serves 13 schools in Champaign County, said food bank spokeswoman Julie Melton.
But at schools like Westview and Robeson, where Keene's children attend, about half the students qualify for free and reduced lunches, so they aren't served by the Backpack Program, Keene and Kirkland said.
However, as Keene points out, that means that half of the students who attend those schools may be food insecure.
So Keene and Kirkland are starting a program called Feeding Our Kids meant to supplement the Backpack Program at schools it doesn't currently serve. They're starting the program with the help of the PTAs at Westview and Robeson elementaries in Champaign, but are hoping to expand to other schools. They're looking for community help to do so.
Feeding Our Kids is hosting a meeting for those who want to get involved at 6 p.m. Oct. 29 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2101 S. Prospect Ave, C.
There, they'll talk about the program, how people can get involved and possible future food drives.
Or, if you can't make the meeting, the program has other needs, as well. Keene and Kirkland are hoping a small business or non-profit could provide storage space where they can store food meant for students. They're also accepting financial donations through their schools' PTAs, though donations should be marked clearly for Feeding Our Kids.
Westview's address is 703 S. Russell St., Champaign, IL 61821. Robeson's is 2501 Southmoor Drive, Champaign, IL 61821.
Keene and Kirkland recently bought food to give to Robeson and Westview students in November, and they've identified 18 students to receive it, with the help of both schools' social workers.
Robeson social worker Kathie Pflum is creating a permission slip, and they're working out ways to make sure students receive the food confidentially.
"We don't want them to feel pinpointed, but that they are supported," Kirkland said.
Mosley said social workers are able to provide lists of food pantries and bus tokens to parents, but challenges in schedules, child care and even the weather can make it hard for parents to get there.
Keene said she's always amazed to hear the life and career goals of students she meets while volunteering in school.
"We as adults need to help make that happen," she said.
The program isn't meant to compete with the food bank's BackPack Program, and local schools will continue to have food drives for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
"We're trying to supplement it," Kirkland said.