Backpack Heroes: Fighting child hunger on the weekends

Samantha Townsend and Maxine Brisport have witnessed child hunger firsthand in the classroom.

“Didn’t even say good morning just went right to the breakfast table,” Townsend said.

Kids as young as 5-years-old clearly not getting enough to eat at home.

“A lot of emotion we see sadness when students are hungry,” Brisport said.

Townsend is a part of the staff at Carroll Hill, an inner city elementary in Troy. She has a secret job, something she does on top of her regular teaching duties. Every week during the school year a group of teachers stuff 15 backpacks full of food for the students they know need it the most.

“I know my little girl who got it last year absolutely loved it she asked me every day, “Is it Friday yet is it Friday yet?,” Townsend said.

The food goes home with the students to ensure they're covered for the weekend when they're not getting breakfast and lunch provided by the school. Enough food to feed other family members who might need it too. It's called the Backpack Program. Brisport, a school psychologist, says many of the older kids don't want anyone to know they're getting help.

“We had one student who was a 5th grader who was really self-conscious about it,” Brisport said.

The staff goes above and beyond to keep it anonymous.

“She would discreetly come to my room between classes and transfer the stuff into her own backpack so she could take it home,” Brisport said.

Carroll Hill is one of 135 schools taking part in this program in partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. So big, Executive Director Mark Quandt says the food bank can't fund it.

“We said it’ll be your responsibility to fund the program,” Quandt said.

On top of dishing out the food, the PTA, teachers, or community groups do the fundraising. Carrol Hill found a corporate sponsor, health insurance provider, Fidelis Care. Marketing Director Tim Tilton made the decision to get involved.

“Once we learned the backpack program wasn’t available in the Troy School District we immediately wanted to help,” Tilton said.

3,500 students are getting help through the backpack program right now, but there are many more who need it. At Carroll Hill alone, there are still 15 other students who could use a backpack.

“The one downside, kids will come up to us and ask for a backpack and we get sad when we have to turn them away.”

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