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Operation Backpack: ‘Creating a great impact’
May 03, 2013 · Connor Morgan

A recently implemented program known as Operation Backpack is aiding kids at both Mount Vernon and Lisbon schools. The program, free to eligible students, provides about 65 packs worth of food for students to take home over the weekend.

Operation Backpack started in the schools at the beginning of March. Thirty students from Lisbon and 35 from Mount Vernon have signed up for the program, with many more eligible.

"Serving those 65 children is creating a great impact," said Barb Bardsley, assistant to the director at the Southeast Linn Community Center (SELCC) in Lisbon, which helps coordinate the project. "These are kids who might not have enough to eat over the weekend. We provide food for them in a small bag to take home over the weekend."

The benefits of the program are evident according to the nurses from both Mount Vernon and Lisbon. Melissa Hauser, the nurse for Mount Vernon schools, has noticed a big impact.

"I think the program has shown immediate benefits," said Hauser. "Even if we send only one backpack to one child, it is a benefit because that is one less child who goes hungry."

Julie Light, the nurse for Lisbon schools, first heard about the benefits Operation Backpack provided for other schools. She felt it would be a great program to have in Lisbon, so she along with Hauser contacted Jeff Kapparos, director of SELCC.

Teaming with the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), the food from Operation Backpack is delivered to the schools on Thursdays and given to the kids Fridays after school, just in time for the weekend.

"The kids are excited to come in and get their bag," said Light. "There are non-perishable, healthy snacks that tide them over for the weekend. The kids are really conscientious about it - they don't forget."

Any student who is part of a school's free and reduced lunch program is eligible to get a pack from Operation Backpack for the weekend. According to Hauser, the number of students on the free and reduced lunch program is growing, so implementing Operation Backpack is proving extremely helpful.

"I have worked in the schools for seven years and each year our free and reduced population has increased," said Hauser. "If we can help a family by taking away the stress of where their next meal comes from, we need to do it. Implementing the program was a no-brainer."

Signing up for the program is quite simple. All a student has to do is sign an approval form given by either Hauser or Light.

"There is no limit to the number of students we can have," said Light. "So far we have 30 kids. That's 30 benefits. There are far more students eligible - all they have to do is sign up."

SELCC has had aspirations of implementing Operation Backpack in the local schools for a while, so they are thankful to the HACAP food reservoir in Hiawatha for being able to provide the weekly stipends.

"According to school nurses, a lot of kids don't get much to eat over the weekend," said Bardsley. "This is just another one of our missions to accomplish - wiping out hunger, one child at a time."

The benefits aren't just for the students, however. Light gets excited knowing that she can positively impact the lives of so many young students.

"I'm tickled pink to be part of the process," said Light. "It gives me an opportunity to tell them to have a great weekend. I get hugs from many of the students. It's a great thing knowing I get to send kids home with snacks and meals."

Despite budget cuts occurring in social services areas, Light hopes that the program can continue over the summer and keep going over the next school year into the foreseeable future.

Community involvement is crucial to maintaining the program and Hauser encourages anyone who has the means to help to get involved.

"Get involved," said Hauser. "Go to Southeast Linn and ask them what you can do. Donate food for the program, donate money, or give your time. It is not difficult to make a difference in someone's life."

For anyone interested in learning more about the program, contact Melissa Hauser, Julie Light, or HACAP. The school nurses have forms for children to sign up if eligible.

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