August is a month in which we focus on back-to-school readiness–making sure kids have what the need to learn, grow and have success in school. Education is one of the four pillars of Feed the Children’s work, and we know kids can’t learn well if they don’t have their basic needs met. That’s why we take a multi-layered approach, providing not just food, but also school supplies and other essentials. We work closely with local organizations to make sure folks are part of a long-term effort to help them get on their feet and out of poverty for good.
Today we share a little more about our Homeless Education and Literacy Program, which provides backpacks and other vital supplies for children who are homeless. Read more about H.E.L.P. at this link.
Homelessness doesn’t just affect the big cities—it’s a problem that plagues small-town America as well. We partnered recently with a school district in West Virginia that has some 156 homeless children in 9 schools.
We provided a backpack and supplies for each of these young people, and staff at the schools let us know what a difference they made. On a survey evaluating the program, staff reported increases in attendance and self-esteem, and said the backpack program helped improve communication between school staff and the families.
The staff passed along their profound gratitude for the gifts H.E.L.P. provided: “The items provided in the backpacks are things that families on this level of income would never dream of being able to provide. Without your help in distributing these supplies, these children would simply go without.”
Another staff member reported this: “One child couldn’t believe that she was going to have a backpack of her very own. This little girl also attends my church, and she brought the backpack to church with her the following week! She and her mother told me afterward how much they appreciated the gift. She also told me she sleeps with her backpack! Something that most of us take for granted can mean so much in the life of a child.”
During the month of August we’re inviting people to join us in providing hope for those without life’s essentials. Will you sponsor a backpack full of supplies (and a few goodies) so that a child is ready for school? It just takes a few moments. Here’s how.
Summer is winding down, and children across the country are getting ready for another school year. For lots of kids, that means a new outfit for the first day, fresh unsharpened pencils and a perfect box of crayons, or a new backpack emblazoned with the latest cartoon character or superhero.
But for one population, back-to-school time can be a time of anxiety and stress for the whole family: the population of children in the United States who are homeless. Each year, 1.6 million American children go to sleep without a home of their own—and sadly, that number is rising.
Succeeding in school as a homeless child is tough. Algebra, anatomy and Animal Farm can be challenging enough without the stress of living on the street, jumping from shelter to shelter, or wondering whether your parents will be able find a job or provide for your basic needs. Unfortunately, these kids are three times more likely to drop out of school than kids with homes. Such a tragedy only feeds the cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and homelessness when these kids become parents themselves.
In fact, we know that if children who are homeless can remain in school, they perform as well as their peers over time. These kids will prove themselves academically and socially if given the chance. And their families want to work and contribute positively to society too.
But they need help. They need H.E.L.P.: Feed the Children’s Homeless Education & Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.).
H.E.L.P. is one of the few programs of its kind in the nation. Since its inception in 2006, the program has focused on providing children who are homeless with backpacks and basic supplies they need in order to be successful in school.
We stuff these backpacks with some of life’s essentials as well as a bit of fun: school supplies, ready-to-eat food, hygiene items, and of course, books. We work with homeless liaisons and schools across the country who know the face of homelessness and can help us connect and respond. These local partners deliver the backpacks to the students who need them most. They make this delivery privately to help preserve the dignity of these young people.
The homeless liaisons who hand out the backpacks tell us that children treasure these gifts. In some cases, the backpack is the only thing these kids own. The backpacks aren’t just a leg up on the school year—they’re a tangible expression of hope.
Since the beginning of H.E.L.P. almost ten years ago, we’ve distributed more than 700,000 H.E.L.P. backpacks. In 2013 alone, Feed the Children provided 65,000 backpacks to kids without homes.
Malia loves books. While her reading level doesn’t match her age or grade, she digs in with gusto to any book she can get her hands on. When she is actually in class, her teacher can always count on her to curl up with a book any chance she gets.
Malia, her brother, two sisters, and mom are what her school considers to be homeless. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s Homeless Education Program describes the challenges faced by students like her in a letter they wrote to us recently: “High mobility, precarious living conditions, and poverty have an enormous impact on the educational success of our students.”
Malia doesn’t get to attend school every day like the other kids because her address keeps changing, on the days that she actually has an address. Catching the bus to school is nearly impossible. She misses many days of school because it’s just so difficult to get there.
Malia has her days, just like any child, in which she doesn’t want to do the work required of her. But most days, she’d rather be in school. Days outside of class are long, boring, and hungry. The school is cool in summer, warm in winter, and dry in the rain. The bathrooms have hot water, the lights stay on, and she gets to eat a good breakfast and lunch. And it has a library with books she can read for free. Even on a bad day, she has to admit that being at school beats being cooped up inside a car or wandering downtown trying not to attract unwanted attention.
In February, a Feed the Children truck rolled into Malia’s town and unloaded boxes full of backpacks, books, school supplies, hygiene items, and snacks at the school. Staff in the Homeless Education Program began calling students immediately, thrilled to surprise them with brand new backpacks and school supplies.
Malia remembers the day clearly. She had actually made it to class that morning, and the lunch had been a favorite. After the final bell rang, her social worker found her wandering toward the exit, a few papers and a tattered math book thrown into a plastic grocery sack.
“Malia, I have something for you.”
She followed the woman into an office where a beautiful brand-new purple backpack sat on the desk, its girth giving away that it held more than air and some packing paper.
“Open it up!”
Malia unzipped the bag (the zipper worked!) and breathed in the scent of new: crayons, colored and #2 pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, a notebook, folder, pencil pouch, scissors. Two new books to read. TWO! A re-sealable bag with soap, shampoo, comb, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Another smaller bag with granola bars and dried fruit. She couldn’t remember ever having her own brand-new school supplies.
“This is nice. Thank you!”
She tucked the grocery sack and math book into her new backpack, poked her arms through the straps, and walked out of school just like a regular kid. First order of business – find somewhere to curl up with her new books.
At Feed the Children, we do just that. We feed children.
But if you’re like many of us, you may be asking yourself, “What do backpacks have to do with feeding? And what happens when the children you feed get hungry again? Is it enough to feed a child today?”
We say, “NO.”
Food for today is essential. People don’t function well when they are hungry, and children struggle to learn when their stomach is growling.
But unless we address the root causes of hunger, we aren’t changing anything. Children and their families need the skills, education, and resources to provide for themselves and improve both their present and their future.
But for children without a permanent home, going to and finishing school can seem like an insurmountable challenge. It’s all the more difficult when the adults in their lives can’t provide food on a regular basis, let alone purchase school supplies.
So Feed the Children helps students stay in school by providing them with backpacks full of school supplies and personal care items. Since the launch of our H.E.L.P. (Homeless Education and Literacy Program), we’ve distributed over 700,000 backpacks to children in all 50 states who are homeless.
Or, a Backpack Build event is a fun way for your group or organization to provide hands-on help for at-risk children right in your own community. For far less than retail cost, you can have brand-new backpacks and school supplies delivered to your door. Then gather your group, load up those packs together, and deliver them to local children in need! Contact us for more information.