Packed with Goodness


Winter 2015

The Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Backpack Program Fills a Need for Hungry Kids

Staying inside, cozy and warm, is the instinct when winter comes to northern Illinois.

But keeping warm in the house and having warm food are two different issues, especially for many working families in the counties surrounding Chicago. Hunger hits behind closed doors in these generally affluent communities. The Northern Illinois Food Bank steps in, quietly and discreetly delivering dinner for the weekend, through backpacks filled with dinner staples and carried home by schoolchildren on Fridays.

Families shouldn’t have to choose between food and housing, but that’s the dilemma faced by 62 percent of the households served by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, says Donna Lake, director of communications and philanthropy. The food bank’s research has found that in northern Illinois, one in five children is in danger of not having sufficient food. School-based programs address much of that need during the week. But as Lake explains, teachers noticed that on Monday mornings, some students weren’t able to focus and seemed irritable – some students weren’t getting regular meals over the weekend. 

The food bank realized that they could fit a weekend’s worth of meals for three children into a single backpack to tide the families over. Supported by a grant from the Subaru of America Foundation, 1,200 weekend meal backpacks have gone home with children, most in elementary school. The children bring back the empty backpacks on Mondays, and the food bank replenishes the packs at the end of the next week. 

The packs also provide easier access to food for families juggling multiple jobs and whose responsibilities and schedules conflict with the food bank’s traditional modes of distribution, said Lake. 

We want to be the source for people who need food for every meal. It’s through the support of companies like Subaru that we can help neighbors in need.

Learn more about Northern Illinois Food Bank.