Students from Lake Wilderness Elementary School show off donated food bags they gave to Backpack Buddies for Kids. The Maple Valley nonprofit gives students with food insecurity meals for the weekend and now for the summer.
                                Photo courtesy of Backpack Buddies for Kids of Maple Valley.

Students from Lake Wilderness Elementary School show off donated food bags they gave to Backpack Buddies for Kids. The Maple Valley nonprofit gives students with food insecurity meals for the weekend and now for the summer. Photo courtesy of Backpack Buddies for Kids of Maple Valley.

Backpack Buddies extends services to summer

Program provides food and vouchers to families in need

The nonprofit Backpack Buddies of Maple Valley has been serving kids in the Tahoma School District for three years now.

The goal of the nonprofit is to provide food over the weekends for children who “face nutritional insecurity” while away from school, according to the Backpack Buddies website.

While schools can provide students in need with breakfast and lunch during the week, Backpack Buddies has them covered during the weekends.

During the past three years of service, the top question that is asked was “What happens to these students during the summer?”

“The kiddos that are getting breakfast and lunch at school for free … are using our services (too), and they now don’t even have (weekday lunches),” President of Backpack Buddies of Maple Valley Mindy Gamble said. “It just seemed like we were at a good point with how far we’ve come. That it was a right time to start serving them over the summer so that it bridged that gap a little bit more when they don’t have food for the summer.”

Although they are serving children during the summer, it is still just the weekends that Backpack buddies will be providing food for those who “opt-in” for that service.

The follow through to extend the services into the summer actually happened during the snow storm in February, Gamble said.

During that storm, the nonprofit was not able to deliver the weekend bags of food to the schools like they normally do because of the snow. So they asked parents to come pick up the food if they could.

Of the 20 parents who showed up to get the bags of food, all of them said they would participate in a summer program.

So far, around 50 students have signed up for the summer program.

The deadline to turn the forms in to Gamble was June 1, but Gamble said she’s still receiving them and will continue to accept them into the summer.

“My opinion of this program from the very beginning was if a kid needs food and they opt-in and say ‘we need help,’ we’re going to do our best to help them,” Gamble said.

The biggest difference between the program in the summer is parents have to come get the bags of food for their kids, instead of Backpack Buddies delivery the food to the schools.

Gamble said they prearranged with parents so they know pick up is part of the process. She also said parents have 12 hours to come get the bags.

The food that will be in the bags will stay the same for the most part, Gamble said.

Food includes macaroni and cheese, canned soup or pasta, chocolate milk, juice, popcorn, applesauce or fruit cups, oatmeal, pudding, granola bars and crackers, according to the website.

Usually, bags have two pieces of fresh fruit too, but Gamble said for the summer they decided not to do the fruit in bags so the fruit won’t go bad in hot weather if not eaten right away.

Instead, Backpack Buddies partnered with Foley’s Produce to have validated coupons each week so kids can go get two pieces of fresh fruit from Foley’s. The only exclusion to the coupon is melons.

The rest of the food is based off donations from the community. Gamble said the money they use to purchase the food is all from donations.

The Backpack Buddies Summer Program will start on the first Thursday after school ends and will last until the second Thursday when school starts back up in the fall.

For more information on Backpack Buddies, go to backpackbuddiesofmaplevalley.com/index.html.

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