Ann Arbor's Mitchell Elementary School students get backpacks of food
The blue duffel bags and backpacks start collecting in a corner of Mitchell Elementary School Principal Kathy Scarnecchia’s office on Monday mornings.
They sit empty until the end of the week, when they get jammed full - not of books, but rather of food - and head home with students who may otherwise have little or no food over the course of the weekend.
With about 60 percent of Mitchell students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, many of the students’ families are struggling.
Over the last several years, Mitchell has run several programs to help meet students’ needs beyond just the classroom.
Because of the high free/reduced-price lunch rate, every child in the school qualifies for free breakfast, said David Lahey from Chartwells.
The school has also run an after-school tutoring program that includes a snack and dinner.
So for many students, the school is providing three meals a day.
But school officials noticed on Mondays, students weren’t as energetic as they were in the middle of the week and often looked run-down. In many cases, it was because those students were lacking food, or nutritionally sound food, on the weekend.
Enter the backpacks.
The district first thought about starting such a program a couple of years ago, but plans never came through, said Sara Aeschbach, the director of the district’s Rec and Ed program.
As the district began working with Food Gatherers to provide a food distribution at the preschool, the idea resurfaced.
Scarnecchia put together a list of families that might need help and also asked parents to sign up.
Now, 15 families are getting backpacks, which include corn, green beans, cereal, tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese and other staples.
Food Gatherers provides the food, Chartwell’s food service employees pack the bags and Mitchell distributes it.
Students take the backpacks home from school on Friday afternoon and return them empty on Monday.
“We think keeping students fed and healthy outside of school is helping them to get ready to learn,” Scarnecchia said. “Our students feel like this is their second home. This helps them feel more cared for. It helps to build a sense of community.”
District officials said they hope to continue the program at Mitchell and possibly expand it in the future.
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-623-2534.