Backpack Program Provides Nutritious Food for Students

Today, nearly 400 elementary school children receive food through the backpack program

Culinary arts students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin's Rindge School of Technical Arts (RSTA) in Massachusetts are playing a vital role in helping provide nutritious meals for young students in their community.

Food for Free's Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program is the brain child of Alanna Mallon, who decided to take action after hearing a radio story about backpack programs for kids whose primary source of nutrition comes from school cafeterias. Mallon launched her own version in Cambridge in 2012, serving 12 kids in the beginning.

"Cambridge seems like a very wealthy city, and the truth is it's a tale of two cities," Mallon said. "We have very wealthy people and we have families who are really struggling."

Today, nearly 400 elementary school children receive food through the backpack program. Students get two breakfasts, two lunches, milk, fresh fruit, and healthy snacks discreetly packed into their backpacks for the weekend.

As the program expanded, RSTA decided to work it into the culinary arts food justice curriculum.

"These young men and women have committed themselves, their energy, their ability to plan, solve problems, and they rolled up their sleeves with Alanna and other community members and agencies," said Mike Ananis, Executive Director of RSTA.

Organizing these meals is a mission that's helping steer career aspirations and one that's personally gratifying.

"It makes me feel like a great person," said Mauro Teixeira, a senior.

"My little brother actually gets backpacks from the backpack program from his school," said senior Angelica Owirka. "So it's nice. He loves getting them and he loves the food in them and the snacks."

Teachers and administrators are seeing positive results, Mallon told necn.

"They say kids are coming to school more regularly, they are more highly engaged, they are able to do more homework on their weekends," Mallon said.

The Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program has inspired these high-schoolers to do even more for the community. They are in the process of opening a food pantry at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School for fellow students in need.

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