By Ariana Estes

Teachers know when a student has had a rough weekend or hasn’t had enough to eat since leaving school on Friday. Hungry students cannot focus on education and their behavior can be affected. At Lutheran Family Services of Virginia’s Minnick Schools, the goal is to educate children, meeting them where they are and helping them develop skills to learn and thrive in the classroom. Our schools provide breakfast and lunch to all students each day, but often, students and families have a need for food on the weekends.

That’s where the Backpack program comes in. For students in need, the backpacks sent home each Friday provide basic food necessities that are ready to eat or require a small amount of prep work. The contents of the bags depend on the family’s situation. For some children, the bag may contain all the food a child will have from the time they leave school on Friday until they arrive again on Monday. For others, it contains snacks to help meet their needs as growing children.

“Being hungry affects a child’s ability to learn — so food is just as important as books, pencils, and paper for helping a student meet their educational goals,” says Ashley Wittl, principal at Roanoke Minnick School Main Campus.

“Each meal provides our students with some protein and other essentials. Of course, the students have different favorites. One student said his favorite thing are the juice boxes. Another student said that she loves the popcorn,” says Bill Sutherland, principal at Wytheville Minnick School.

The program is supported solely by local congregations. Some rely on the members of their congregation to supply food for their pantry, while others may utilize Feeding America to supplement the food they have on hand. For students at Wytheville Minnick School, this service is provided by Holy Trinity’s Luther’s Lunch Bag program. St. John Lutheran Church of the Redeemer Lutheran Church provides this program for students at Bristol Minnick School. Roanoke Minnick School Main Campus’ program is supported by St. Philip Lutheran Church. In Harrisonburg, Mt. Olive Church of the Brethren, a Rockingham County congregation, provides the backpack program for our Harrisonburg Minnick School students.

“The snacks provide an important bridge for our students to have ready-to-eat food over the course of the weekend. We are grateful to the congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for supporting our kids here at Minnick School in Wytheville,” says Sutherland.

Participating churches have selected menus for each week of the month with items like peanut butter, oatmeal, or cereal with nonperishable milk. Members of the church pack the backpacks and deliver the food to the schools.

“By partnering with the Backpack program through St. Philip Lutheran Church, we are able to make a small impact in the weekend lives of our students. This small impact has the potential to reap great rewards when we get to see a happy, smiling face on Monday morning that is ready to learn!” says Wittl.