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Backpacks hope to sack hunger in Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District

Moshannon Valley YMCA Branch Director Mel Curtis fills a backpack with food as part of a program to give backpacks full of food to children every Friday to feed them through the weekend.
Moshannon Valley YMCA Branch Director Mel Curtis fills a backpack with food as part of a program to give backpacks full of food to children every Friday to feed them through the weekend. CDT photo

For some kids, coming to school isn’t just about spelling words and math tests.

It is the place where they know they will get a muffin and some milk to start the day. It’s where there will be a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce for lunch.

But what happens on the weekend?

For children who don’t have enough food at home, the two days without school can be a long time to go without a hot meal. Philipsburg-Osceola teachers and school nurses have seen children come in on Monday mornings ravenous, talking about the bare minimum of food available over the weekend. One child even reported that the only food eaten in days was one Pop Tart.

A new partnership between the P-O school district and the YMCA of Centre County’s Moshannon Valley branch aims to fill those hungry stomachs.

On Fridays, starting Nov. 14, the Feeding America Backpack Program will see children in need get an extra backpack to carry home. Instead of being filled with homework, it will be packed with simple, shelf-stable, child-friendly food to help keep bellies from grumbling too much over the weekend. Samples might include canned soup, peanut butter crackers, granola bars, a fruit cup and some juice.

Laura Fry, P-O’s food services director, said about half of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch. For many children, she said, the problem is only partially about money. It might also be about supervision, as parents with service jobs or schedules that aren’t 9-to-5 just aren’t around and children might be left to their own devices for meals.

There are also about 40 homeless families in the district that may not have the facilities available to prepare meals or store food.

That doesn’t surprise Mel Curtis, director of the Moshannon Valley branch. For 10 years, he has watched the Summer Lunch Program grow, with the Y helping feed children on weekdays over summer vacation. Since 2004, they have served 140,000 plates of free food.

“We know the need is there,” he said. “We have seen it in our Christmas program, too.”

Every year, the Mo Valley branch provides warm clothes and a Christmas dinner to families in need. As of the beginning of November, there are already more than 100 local families signed up for help.

“From that standpoint, we knew we had to do something. We jumped right on board,” Curtis said.

In October, he came to stand with Frye, asking school board permission to start a program to bridge that gap.

It all starts with a backpack.

On Mondays, the backpacks will be brought back and stored to be refilled and distributed again for the weekend. Bags and food will be stored at the P-O middle school.

Curtis said the program is being supported with donations from Wal-Mart, the Centre County Community Foundation and private donors. Frye said the Philipsburg Kiwanis Club and P-O Key Club are also partners.

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