Start a Backpack program in your community

**Please note that a printer friendly version of this information is available as an attachment at the bottom of this page**





ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Snack in a Backpack would like to thank Hunger Free Colorado for allowing us to use and share their toolkit as a guideline.


One in five Georgia families reported that there was at least one time in the past year they did not have enough money to buy the food they needed.   Children are at risk for hunger and many families struggle to provide them the nutrition they need to thrive.  As a result, many children are coming to school too distracted by their empty stomachs to focus on doing well in school. Local backpack food programs are one way to provide needed food to children who would otherwise not have adequate access to food on weekends. Many of the children we serve get most of their meals at school and have little or nothing to eat on the weekends.


A backpack weekend food program requires the cooperation and support of the entire community, including school officials, community organizations, faith-based organizations, parents, and children. Thank you for taking the initiative to support the health and education of the children in your community!




Every backpack food program is unique to the community and school it serves. Our backpack program provides a bag of nonperishable food to children who have little or nothing to eat on the weekends. This food may help feed other members of the family as well. These bags are distributed at school to participating children in plastic or reusable bags by their teacher or counselor on Fridays.


Backpack food programs are commonly run by volunteers and sustained by donations of community members and private foundations. Often, backpack food programs are run through food banks or food pantries that are already providing emergency and supplemental food assistance for families in need.


We suggest you create a unique name for your program which helps make it “your own” and very special.



1. Identify the school where you want to start a new backpack food program

 A helpful way to learn more about the need in your community is to explore the percentage of children in a school who qualify to receive free or reduced-priced school meals. We recommend contacting your school nutritionist for information. We believe the more people you speak with about your program, the more successful it will become. Sharing our program with others has been the key to the success of the Snack in a Backpack program.


2.  Schedule a meeting with the Superintendent of Schools.

If you are in a small community, we recommend starting a dialog with the superintendent of schools; if you are in a larger community, start with the principal of the school. Don’t get discouraged. Remember, there are hundreds of these programs throughout the US.  Your program is to be run by volunteers so there will be no added responsibilities placed on the school staff.  You must be aware of the importance of the Privacy Act, so no child will be identified as being a participant in your program.


3.  Schedule a meeting with the principal and counselor


A meeting with the school principal and counselor is essential in determining what works best for their school. In our program, we serve 5 schools, and each school has a somewhat different plan. The plan which seems to work best for us is:

            a) Volunteers have a map of the school with names of teachers and classroom numbers.


            b) Volunteers are given a pre-determined number of food bags needed for each classroom.


            c) On Fridays, the volunteers drop off the food bags inside the door to each classroom for students to take home as they leave the school.


4.  Plan the specifics of your program


Once you understand the needs of the school and the resources you have, begin planning the details of your program. Begin to answer these questions:

    a. How many children will most likely be involved in your backpack food program? (We received the number of students signed up for our program from the school counselors. In the beginning of our program, several parents who signed up their children for the program realized later their children really didn't need the food and returned the food bags suggesting it be given to another child).

    b. Teachers sent out a permission slip to all parents of students explaining the program and asking if they would like their child to participate. See attached form.

    c. How and where will you package the food? When we started our program, one of our churches warehoused our food. As we grew it was apparent we needed a facility which had easier access and longer hours. Our local food pantry donated a room to warehouse food and backpacks.

    d. What day of the week will you pack the food bags? As our program grew, it was decided to invite the entire community to get involved. We now pack the food bags every Wednesday at our local food pantry where we warehouse the food. This is a great way to get the community involved and those who cannot commit on a regular basis can be a part of our program as well. We have different people come every week to help and we also have regulars.

    e. What day of the week will you distribute the food bags? Bags are usually distributed by volunteers on Thursdays. We believe Thursdays are best in case there is a problem you need to solve before you hand out food bags on Friday.

    f. Are you going to distribute additional food or resources for extended breaks? On holidays, we generally pack extra food in the bags. Discuss this option with the school.


5.  Make a budget considering all of the resources and materials you will need for your program


There are many resources you will need to secure before you begin your program. They include: food, large containers, bags, a dolly or cart, and storage space. We had almost everything donated except the food.


FOOD: Food will likely be your largest cost for your program. Due to the possible inconsistent availability of food, try to maintain a three to five week storage of food.

Each bag should cost $2.00 to $5.00.  Bags full of healthy food can easily be made for $2.50 per child, per week.


                    $2.50 x 100 students = $250.00 each week.

                    $250.00 per week x 36 weeks per year = $9,000.00 each year for 100 students.


When we started our program we were receiving donated food, only to learn later that some of the children were feeling slighted because they weren’t getting the same food as the others. We then arranged to purchase food at our local food bank at considerably lower prices, and now each child gets the same food. You must go through a 501-C-3 in order to purchase food from the food bank. I suggest meeting with your local food pantry or church and invite them to be a part of your program. This is also a great way to recruit volunteers.


LARGE CONTAINERS:  Once the food bags are packed, they can be stored in 30 gallon plastic storage tubs in each classroom ready to be distributed on Friday. Have one container, like a plastic tub or large plastic laundry basket, for each participating classroom. Each tub should be labeled with the teacher’s name and should stay in the teacher’s room except when you are filling them with food bags.


BAGS: Choose a type of bag that you want to distribute the food in. One bag is needed for every child, each week. Plastic bags work well because they can easily be collected and do not require a child to return the bag the following week. Reusable bags are environmentally friendly, but you risk children or families losing the bag and require you to purchase more.


This year we are changing the type of bags we use. A local merchant has donated 1,000 washable “hiker” bags which can be put into the students’ regular backpack or can be worn as a backpack. We require the students to return the bag on Monday to be reused. We hope this might teach the children responsibility. Some schools will tell the students that if they do not return their bag, they will receive their food in a plastic bag. We also allow the students to keep their bags at the end of the year if they return their bags on a regular basis.


CART OR DOLLY: To easily collect and deliver the large containers of the bags to the classrooms each week, it is helpful to have a cart, dolly or wagon (donation).     Ask your school if they have one you can use each week for your program.


Recruit volunteers


A strong and dependable group of volunteers will be essential to keeping your program organized and successful. Generally, each school requires between seven to nine volunteers to work well. Because of the lifting and labor required to package and distribute the bags, it is recommended most volunteers are able to lift 25 pounds. Volunteer responsibilities include:


Designate one Volunteer Coordinator for each school. This person will be responsible for recruiting additional volunteers, and coordinating the pickup and drop off of food to their school and fundraising.  Work with teachers and counselors to learn when children involved in the program leave the school and when new children join the school. Communicate with the school administration, staff, and teachers about the program. Be the general eyes and ears about the progress of the program at a school. Coordinate fundraisers for your school.


Six to Eight Weekly Volunteers:

These people will help your School Coordinator package and deliver food bags to the children each week. The time commitment is about one hour per week (usually every Thursday); volunteers could easily rotate depending on their availability. Their responsibilities include:


Volunteering every week to pack food bags at the designated location and deliver to your school.


Communicating with the coordinator if there are any changes in scheduling



Have you already gathered a group of community members excited to help start and volunteer for this backpack food program? Or, how will you recruit volunteers?

Local community clubs (i.e. Lions, Rotary, or Kiwanis Club) and faith-based organizations can help you find volunteers or host fundraisers. The best time to package food bags is during the day so retired or available community members may have the time to help. Additionally, explore your local high school or middle school groups (i.e. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, service clubs) who may also be available to volunteer and help with the program.


Plan your food bags and purchase food


Once you have gathered information about the number of children you will be serving and the community resources. Your local food bank may already have a weekend program, ask if you could piggy back on their program. We have found each program provides different amount of food items, depending on your budget. Our food bank provides 8 items in each pack, our program provides ten items.


            2 Breakfast Options,

            2 Lunch Options,

            Snack Options,

            Fruit Options


Things to consider when planning a menu include:

·         The weight of the bag.

·         The packaging of the food.

·         DO NOT include foods in glass containers as these could be a safety risk for the child.

·         Consider the cooking utensils and tools the child has available.

·         If parents are working and the child will be preparing his own food, include cans with pop-off tops that do not require a can opener.

·         Include foods that are ready to eat or require little to no cooking as the child may not have access to a kitchen, stove or microwave

·         Only include NONPERISHABLE food (we will be providing fresh apples this year when in season).

**If you do wish to include fresh food, be sure to make sure the teachers are comfortable storing fresh food that may smell and pack and distribute the bags on the same day to ensure food safety.

·         Give every child the same brand, type, and flavor of food.

·         Providing every child the same option reduces envy among children and maintains nutritional consistency among your menus; this is              done best by purchasing food as opposed to depending on food donation drives.



Very healthy bags containing complete whole grains and fruits and vegetables are great options to provide children, especially when they have little to no access to them at home.


6.  Confirm a start date and launch your program


       a. Meet with the school principal/counselor and decide on a start date (usually a Friday) to distribute your first bags.

       b. Have teachers send permission forms home to families with information about the start date and encourage them to sign up.

       c. Create a final volunteer schedule making sure you have a reliable School Coordinator and enough volunteers to pack the bags the day before                the start date.

        d. On Thursday, meet your six to eight weekly volunteers to package at a convenient time or schedule a day of the week and invite your                                 community to join your program and pack food bags.

       e.  Create an assembly line with your volunteers to package food.

       f.   Ask your lead volunteer, usually the School Coordinator, to introduce everyone, introduce the program, and explain the packing instructions by                 making an example bag to share. The person at the end of the assembly line will close each bag with a knot and place bags in storage                          containers. This is a great job for a limited mobility volunteer.

       g.  The volunteers picking up the containers will return each one full with bags to each participating classroom.

       h.  Work with your counselor or school contact person to ensure they are able to hand out the food bags on Friday or on the last day before break.

        i.  Continue this weekly schedule working within the school’s calendar.


7.  Measure the success of your program

After a few months running the program, begin thinking about how it is running.  For example:

            Are you coordinating well with the school and teachers?

            Are you reaching all the children who need the program? Could you expand the program?

            Are the children enjoying and benefiting from the food?

            Are your volunteers enjoying their work?

Create a strategy to measure the success of your program that incorporates feedback from parents and teachers, volunteer appreciation, and continued marketing and managing of participants.



A great way to measure the success of your program is through surveys to the teachers and parents asking for honest feedback about the program. See sample Follow-Up Survey for teachers.  This survey will provide you with great information about how the program is impacting the children involved and the needs that still exist in your community.


Also, ask the teachers to informally survey their children about the program.  Encourage them to ask the children what their favorite food have been in the bags, how easy it is to carry the bags home, and other questions about their experience with the program.



Your program would not be possible without the amazing and dedicated work of your volunteers.  Consider organizing a volunteer appreciation event like a breakfast or lunch to thank each one for their work. Additionally, use these events to brainstorm more ideas of how to improve or expand your program.  Your volunteers will be incredible resources for community information and assistance, in addition to the hours of time they give directly to the program.



The program is only successful if you have accurate information about the families and children you are serving and need to serve. Encourage teachers to let your School Coordinator know when a child leaves the school or when a new child joins the school who may benefit from the program.


Measuring the success of your program not only helps you evaluate your impact on the school and children in your community, but it also prepares you for writing grants or finding additional financial resources for sustaining or expanding your program.






1.   Identify the school where you want to start a new backpack food program.

2.   Schedule a meeting with the principal of the school you hope to serve.

3.   Plan the specifics of your program.

4.   Make a budget considering all of the resources and materials you will need for your program.

5.   Recruit volunteers and begin fundraising.

6.   Plan your food bags and purchase food.

7.   Confirm a start date and launch your program.

8.   Measure the success of your program.



We applaud your enthusiasm to create a backpack food program!

Thank you again for your interest in ending childhood hunger !

Good luck on this exciting new program!


Sample Description of Backpack Food Program



[Insert Name of Your Program]

The [Insert the Name of Your Program] provides a weekend supply of nutritious food for children when school lunch and breakfast is unavailable on a weekend or school holiday.  Each food bag contains 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 2 snacks, and 1 can of vegetables and 1 can of fruit.  All food is nonperishable and provided to children free of charge.  It is our hope these resources will support the health, behavior, and achievement of every student that participates.



Though the program is intended to help those children whose families find it difficult to have enough food for the entire month, all children are eligible for this program. Information to sign up for the program will be sent home with students in the coming weeks.



The program is run completely by wonderful volunteers who help pack the food bags.  The program is funded through the generous gifts of [list your funding sources].



Look for more information about becoming part of [Insert Name of Program] soon.  We look forward to working with staff, teachers, and you for your children!



For more information or questions, please contact [Insert Name of Program Leader] at

[Insert Contact Information for Program].




Information for Teachers

Information for Teachers

What is the (insert your program name here)?


The (insert your program name here) program provides a weekend supply of nutritious food for children, commonly for low- income families, to replace the school meals that children miss during their weekend or extended breaks from school. All food is non-perishable excluding fresh fruit when available.


Though the program is intended to help those children whose families find it difficult to have enough food for the entire month, all children are eligible for this program. We invite your help finding children who will benefit most from participating in this program!


The program is run completely by wonderful volunteers who help coordinate with your school to sign children up, pack food bags weekly, and find and organize fundraising and donation drives that keep the program running.  The program not government funded, is non-denominational, and is funded entirely through the generous gifts of individuals, our faith community, and businesses.


How can Teachers help?


As teachers, you already go out of your way daily for your students.  It is our intention that Snack in a Backpack will not increase your workload or responsibilities. Please help us by:

            1. Recommending any of your students that you think would benefit for having this food assistance and participating in this program,           

            2. Letting us know how the program is benefiting your children and let us know of ways to improve the program for your students.

We invite your feedback and collaboration with this program to make it a success.  It is our hope this program will improve the health, behavior and achievement of your students. Thank you in advance for your help!



Permission Slip for Parents




Free Weekend Food for Your Child is Available

Through the (insert your program name here) Program

(insert your program name here) is teaming up with the staff and teachers of _(insert your school name here)_ to offer a supply of nutritious meals and snacks for children over their weekends and extended breaks, free of charge. Bags are distributed by volunteers on the last school day before the weekend or break. Any child enrolled in _(insert your school name here)_ is eligible to receive these weekly bags of food.


If you believe your child could benefit from this program, we encourage you to sign them up by filling the form out below and returning if to the school counselor. Only one form is needed for all the children in your family, but include information for each child in the space below. This information is kept confidential.


Once your child is signed up, they will receive bags of food each week until they leave the school or until you no longer wish to participate. We encourage you to take advantage of this program for your family and your children.


Questions or Concerns?  Please contact your school counselor.

(Insert program name here) Consent Form

Please enroll my child (children) in the (name of program). I understand my child (children) will soon start receiving a bag of food at the end of each week or before upcoming school holidays. The backpack must be returned on Monday so your child can receive food on the next pick up day.


Today’s Date 

Child’s Name, Teacher and Grade __________________________________________________

Child’s Name, Teacher and Grade __________________________________________________

Child’s Name, Teacher and Grade __________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian Name ______________________________ Telephone Number ___________

Parent/Guardian Email Address (if any)  _____________________________________________

Optional: Please check any box below, according to your interest(s). Understand that by doing so, you waive confidentiality, and the school will share your contact information with (name of your program).

                I would like to make a contribution to your program: (name of your program and address)

                I may be interested in serving as a volunteer with (name of our program).




Follow-Up Survey for Teachers


What do you think of the (Insert Name of Your Program Here)?

We want to thank you for your continued support and help with (insert name of your program here). We would appreciate your honest opinion about how the program is running and what we can do to improve the program.


Your Name (optional):                                                                                                                                                                              


Number of children that participate in your class:                                                                                                   


1.   On a scale of 1-5, how easy is it to hand out the bags?

1 (Confusing & disorganized)




5 (Very easy!)


2.   On a scale of 1-5, how easy is it to keep the food stored and clean in your classroom?

1 (Smell or storage of food disrupts class)




5 (Food is easy to store and doesn’t smell)


3.   Have you seen any improvements in the performance or behavior of the children participating? Examples?





4.   What are the kids saying about the program?





5.   What has been the response from parents?  Good? Bad?





6.   On a scale of 1-5, how much do you like this program?

1 (Do not like it!)




5 (Love it!)


7.   Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for the program?




Additional comments?  Please contact [Insert Name of School Coordinator] at [Insert Contact Information for Program].

Brittany Newberry,
Jul 21, 2011, 9:22 AM