On the morning of Feb. 17, the day before students at Firgrove Elementary on South Hill were to be released for President’s Day break, plastic bags full of donated food were prepped and ready to be distributed to children in need.
The donations, which are part of Puyallup’s Communities in Schools’ (CIS) Weekend Backpack Program, are distributed to students every Friday, filled with enough food for breakfast and lunch on the weekend, including items like cereal, peanut butter and ramen noodles. Last Friday, there were more bags than usual, ensuring students were prepared at home for the longer break.
Julie Curran, the site coordinator at Firgrove Elementary, said that the Weekend Backpack Program is part of the Communities in Schools’ effort to keep students in school, which includes doing what they can to help students at home, too.
It’s something that (students) don’t have to stress about. Some students are always at school on Fridays because they know they’re going to get food.
Julie Curran, site coordinator for Communities in Schools Puyallup
“It’s something that (students) don’t have to stress about,” Curran said, adding that some students could be going through tough situations at home, like a parent losing his or her job. “Some students are always at school on Fridays because they know they’re going to get food.”
The Weekend Backpack Program launches at the beginning of the school year and continues toward the end of the year, sometimes into summer, and serves students across four elementary schools in the Puyallup School District: Firgrove, Sunrise Elementary, Karshner Elementary and Stewart Elementary. Food is donated by local partners, including Fred Meyer, Mountain View Community Center and Puyallup Nazarene Church.
“About 151 students are receiving food from our backpack program,” said Colleen Davis, operations administrator for CIS. “It helps with our academic mission to have kids stay in school.”
About seven CIS staff members work on many different programs in the district, but the Weekend Backpack Program addresses the problem of hunger. At Firgrove, about 31 of more than 600 students receive donations. CIS staff lets parents know about the program so that students can be added to the program list.
151 students receive donations from the Weekend Backpack Program
“We want to make sure everyone’s in agreement,” Davis said.
Then, Curran, with the help of AmeriCorps member Marcus Micheles, goes from classroom to classroom, discreetly excusing students and having them follow them to the office.
“We ask them to bring their own backpacks, but if they forgot or left them at home, we like to provide (them),” Curran said.
Curran and Micheles then fill students’ backpacks with the donations, and they return to class.
“They’re very sensitive of the kids and how they react,” Davis said.
But the program is more than just a duty, Curran said. There’s also an opportunity to chat with students one on one about both their academic and home lives. The first time students meet Curran and Micheles, they’re shy. But over time, a relationship develops, and students become more comfortable sharing about themselves.
You can tell that it’s a big thing for them to feel like they have someone to come and talk to. The Weekend Backpack Program opens a door that leads to a stronger relationship.
“You can tell that it’s a big thing for them to feel like they have someone to come and talk to,” Curran said. “The Weekend Backpack Program opens a door that leads to a stronger relationship.”
Micheles recalled one student in particular who was shy about receiving her donation. Micheles would take her backpack without excusing her from class to fill it. But eventually, she started approaching Micheles on her own during recess and in the hall to talk with him.
“The services go past the walls (of the school),” Micheles said.
The program helps lift the stress off teachers who are already focused on education, added Curran. As a site coordinator, she assists the school with extra tutoring and workshops. It all goes back to helping the students, she said.
“Pretty much anything they need, we’ll find a way to get,” she said.
While the program only works with four schools now, that could change in the future, said Davis, if a need grows.
For more information about CIS and its programs, visit puyallup.ciswa.org.