MANSFIELD — Superintendent Teresa Murphy is pleased to announce that the Robinson Elementary School’s Backpack Buddies program has been a success so far in its first month, providing food to dozens of students in need.
“The wellness and well-being of our students is one of our top priorities, and that includes when they leave school and go home for the weekend,” Superintendent Murphy said. “Some of our students do not always have access to healthy, nutritious foods when they get home. This program will help to provide them with some meals and snacks so that they are not going without during those critical times.”
The anonymous program is open to students in grades K-2 at Robinson Elementary School.
Now in its first month, the program officially launched on Oct. 11. In the weeks leading up to the start of the program, the district worked with the Mansfield-based food pantry, Our Daily Bread, to secure basic food items. Food drives were also held through Mansfield High Athletics, Mansfield Youth Soccer, Philoptochos (Friends of the Poor) at St. Gregory the Theologian Greek Orthodox Church and through the Mansfield Police and Fire Departments.
On the last day of the school week each week, small bags containing two breakfast items, two lunch items, two fruits, at least two snacks, a shelf stable milk and juice are discreetly placed in the participating students’ backpacks to take home for the weekend.
“Once we put out the call for food donations, the response we got was tremendous,” said Christine Dooling, Director of Health Services for Mansfield Public Schools. “It was truly inspiring to see the Mansfield community come together to support these students and help ensure that they’re getting the proper nutrition at home.”
The idea for the program came from information sessions hosted by the Hockomock YMCA that Dooling attended, along with members of the Steering Committee for Our Daily Bread. The YMCA continues to support this program in Mansfield and in neighboring towns with quarterly meetings to share resources and ideas.
Over 40 backpacks are sent home each week, including some to students in the program who have older or younger siblings, with those families receiving additional food assistance within a certain weight limit so the kids can carry it all in their backpacks.
Throughout the school year, there will be additional drives held to replenish the supply of food items to put in the backpacks.
As the program progresses the district may plan to expand the service to additional grades and schools.
For Robinson parents who wish to sign their students up for the program, please download the sign-up sheet here.
The program is run by Dooling, MPS Director of Food Services Dawn Langtry, community volunteers Kim Piro and Jamie Piro and volunteers from Our Daily Bread. The district is also looking at ways that high school students can volunteer to help prepare the bags and sort food.
“This has truly been a community effort to launch this program and to keep it running,” Dooling said. “We hope to support our students and families with simple food items and also introduce them to the food pantry and other supports that are available to them.”
For more information about Our Daily Bread, please visit their website.