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The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County helping implement countywide backpack program

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. –The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County is working with Upshur County Schools to secure funding for a County Wide Backpack Program. They received a grant award of $20,880.00 from the Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon in the Foundation’s 2020-2021 Core Priorities Initiative funding cycle.  They have also received a $5,000.00 donation from Multitude Foods.

The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County will use its grant awards and donations to operate a County Wide Backpack Program.  One of every five children in the United States are hungry. This staggering statistic is happening within our schools.  Upshur County Schools are determined to change the hunger statistic by providing a County Wide Food Pantry/ Backpack program in every school. 

The goal of the backpack program is to ensure that no child goes hungry in Upshur County, thus improving their social and behavioral actions.  When not hungry, students can improve their ability to focus both socially and educationally.  This ability will improve quality of life both in and out of the school environment.  The improved education and social order will improve the quality of life for all citizens of Upshur County and the State of West Virginia.

Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus, Superintendent, stated “Nutrition is important at every stage in life.  But it is especially important for our school-age children. All children deserve access to proper nutrition to stay healthy, strong and to be ready to learn.  We are very thankful for the backpack program and the partnership with the Foundation for Better Schools, the Pallottine Foundation and our Community.  Through this partnership all Upshur County students who wish to participate will be provided nutritional meals that they can take home for the weekend.” 

“We believe that the work of organizations like The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County are key for moving the needle on increased access to healthy food for our children,” said Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon Executive Director, Janell Ray. “Through its collaborative partnership with Upshur County Schools, The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County is already making significant strides, and we value their expertise and are excited by their ability to leverage our dollars to do even more.”

“The Foundation for Better Schools supports the education system and the students within our county. By focusing on the student’s basic needs and providing opportunities to the school system, we enhance our future generations educational experiences” said Foundation President, Don Nestor.  He notes, “The County Wide Backpack Program is only one of many core priorities of our Foundation. The Foundation looks forward to working with our community, civic and business organizations to support this endeavor.”

 It is important to remember that the backpack program is not a new concept in Upshur County Schools. The new concept is a consistent, county wide program. The current backpack program is operated by the individual schools.  Different civic and church organizations, businesses, and individuals either purchase or provide funding for food.  The items are either stored at the school or at local churches.  Once a week volunteers meet and “put” together the backpack and then deliver them to their sponsored schools.  Individual schools receive in-kind donations to operate their own program.

The County Wide Backpack program will operate at a “county” level.  All schools will fall under the umbrella of a county wide program for purchasing purposes.  For this program to be successful we need and value our community partners now more than ever.  They are a valuable asset to our program.  Upshur County Schools distributes 2088 backpacks a month.  Implementing a County Wide Program will allow the foundation to purchase the food in a bulk quantity at a much lower cost.  The food is delivered to our county warehouse for individual schools to pick up the items needed to prepare their backpacks.  This is where the community volunteers and organizations that are already in place at the school level will come into play.  Those volunteers will then take the food to the school or their designated distribution center to prepare and pack the bags for the students.  Each school has a “holding area” for backpack items.  The volunteers will still have “ownership” of their role in their schools’ program.  The only difference is instead of them or the school purchasing items the food will be purchased for them.  In essence the Foundation becomes the retail merchant.

During COVID Multitude Foods is providing boxed/bagged backpacks similar to what the children are currently receiving from the Board of Education. This is an excellent option.  The boxes would cost less than us purchasing individual items and then bagging them ourselves Food will be purchased at the best value.  We will reach out to places like Mountaineer Food Bank (MFB), AF Wendling’s, Sam’s Club, Multitude foods and current vendors.  With the current COVID volunteer restrictions in place at the schools this would greatly reduce the number of volunteers needed to pack backpacks.

There are several food options that we are exploring.  Traditionally, we would pack 2 breakfast items, 2 lunch items, 2 dinner items and 3 snacks in each bag.  Under the county wide program, the options will be unified.  So that if you have children at more than one school, they will be receiving the same items.  The food choices will be made so that the meals can be “built upon.”  As an example, if their dinner meal is vegetable soup.  Each child will receive their own serving of soup. Families with multiple children can now combine their vegetable soup into one pot and maybe they can add some extra canned vegetable they have at home or some left over chicken and turn these individual cans of soup into a “FAMILY” meal. 

The backpacks will be distributed to the students on Thursdays and Fridays to the traditional students depending on when they are in attendance.  Under the new COVID schedule, the students that only attend school on Monday and Thursday will receive their backpack on Thursday.  The students that attend on Tuesday and Friday will receive their backpack on Friday.  For the students that only attend school virtual they will receive their backpacks in accordance with the distribution plan that their individual “home” school has established.

The Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County will consolidate all the funds that are received to operate a county wide program and will also be responsible for all food payments.  Long term we want our community and business donors to send their contributions to our Foundation.  However, we understand that individual schools may continue to receive contributions at their schools.  Those funds will be consolidated and put into our Foundation funds. By consolidating all these funds, we will be able to make these bulk food purchases at the lowest costs. 

For more information about your child receiving a backpack please contact your child’s school.

For more information about The Foundation for Better Schools for Upshur County Backpack Program contact Vanessa Perkins 304-439-0996 or Kenna Leonard 304-613-1746. If you would like to donate to the Foundation for Better Schools in support of this program, donations can be mailed to 35 East Lincoln Street, Buckhannon, WV 26201. 

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