It’s an early spring Friday morning and still chilly outside. Inside, a crew of good-natured parents at Pittsburgh Linden, a Pittsburgh Public School in Point Breeze, is crammed into the school’s entry way, filling grocery bags with bakery bread, a few servings of boxed/canned meals, fresh fruit, and some snacks.
These parents are volunteering for the Linden Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger, and this day they are packing a weekend’s supply of food for 88 children—88 out of a total 363 students who attend Linden. In other words, one quarter of the students at Linden receive weekend food assistance.
The packing crew is led by Tara McElfresh, the parent who started the Linden Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger. She was inspired to do so three years ago after she watched a teacher discreetly hand-off some dry goods to a student. Curious, Ms. McElfresh asked the teacher what she was doing. “This child often does not get to eat again until she comes back to school the next day,” explained the teacher. “I know she gets hungry when she leaves school, and so I am doing whatever I can to get her through this difficult time.”
Ms. McElfresh was deeply moved by the teacher’s actions, in part because she, too, had been food insecure as a child. A few weeks later she started the Linden Backpack Initiative. In the first year Ms. McElfresh raised enough money and recruited enough volunteers to pack bags for 17 students every Friday. The second year the total was in the 40s. This year the total is 88 and still climbing.
The Linden Backpack Initiative responds to the problem of growing economic inequality, and the many consequences that poverty inflicts on children. A recent study shows that nearly 2 million people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – including more than a half a million children – do not always know where they will find their next meal.
Research shows that when kids are hungry, they can’t learn. Hungry kids are more likely to be sick and miss schools days, they can’t concentrate, they complain of headaches and stomach aches, and, quite often, as a result, they don’t do well academically.
To make sure that Linden students get the food they need, Ms. McElfresh counts on help from the community. The Linden Backpack Initiative is always looking for both donations and volunteers. For next year, Ms. McElfresh must raise $25,000 to feed what she anticipates will be 100 Linden students who will be part of the program. Anyone who is interested in supporting the Backpack Initiative with a financial donation can visit the their GoFundMe page. If you're able to volunteer 30 minutes of your time on a few Friday mornings each month, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.