Leader of the packs 

The idea of silly first-world problems makes the real problem of hunger even more invisible. The truth is, foodinsecure families reside throughout the first world, the Oklahoma City metro area included.

According to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, one in four children in the state is underfed.

Since Rodney Blevins founded the organization in 1980, it has distributed more than 500 million pounds of food and products. Each week, the food bank feeds more than 90,000 people, yet many still struggle with hunger.

In January 2003, Blevins began the Food for Kids Backpack Program to serve hungry schoolchildren. The idea struck him after receiving a call from an OKC elementary school principal, who told Blevins a student had passed out that Monday morning in the cafeteria line. All the student had eaten over the weekend was a single hot dog, without a bun.

“No child in this great country should go to school on Monday morning hungry. You can’t expect kids to learn that way,” he said.

The program has grown from serving 180 kids at four elementary schools to serving 13,500 kids at 475 schools.

In each participating school, staff members are trained to look for signs of chronic hunger.

“A girl being interviewed by her teacher explained that her family gave away their pet because they couldn’t afford to feed it,” said Blevins. “She then asked her teacher if she thought they were going to have to give her away, too.”

Children registered for the program receive a blue backpack every Friday, loaded with nutritious, nonperishable items to sustain them over the weekend. Items include non-refrigerated milk boxes, peanut butter, crackers, fruit and vegetable cups, and pop-top cans of beef stew.

Teachers reported that students in the program have shown improvement in attendance, academic performance, concentration and self-esteem, and have exhibited fewer signs of hunger.

“The best part about this program is that it’s so easily accessible. There’s no paperwork to fill out or anything,” said Rachel LeForce, the Food for Kids school coordinator. “You really see the benefits when kids show up on Monday morning ready to learn.”

All backpacks are prepared at the food bank. If you would like to volunteer, visit its website at regionalfoodbank.org for details. Donation information is located on the website, as well. A $200 donation provides backpacks to one child for an entire year.

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