School buildings are closed because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. But officials in the Leavenworth school district still plan to distribute food donated through the Backpack Buddies program.
The Leavenworth Backpack Buddies program traditionally provides food to children in kindergarten through the third grade to help sustain them during the weekend when school lunches are unavailable, according to the organization’s website.
The organization collects donations to purchase food for the program. And volunteers typically sort and prepare food to be distributed to qualifying children.
On March 17, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order directing all kindergarten through 12th grade school buildings to close until May 29. The order was intended to help limit the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Later in March, Leavenworth public school officials began providing free meals for children between the ages of 1-18 that can be picked up Monday through Friday at two school sites. This program is scheduled to continue through May 22. And school officials now plan to use the program to also distribute food for the Backpack Buddies program, according to Jake Potter, director of public relations for the school district.
Last week, about 18,000 food items for Backpack Buddies were dropped off at Anthony Elementary School. Potter said district employees are taking on the responsibility of sorting and preparing items from the Backpack Buddies program for distribution.
He said employees will observe social distancing requirements when sorting through the food and limit the size of their groups.
Potter said food from the Backpack Buddies is generally provided to children who qualify for free school lunches or meals at a reduced cost based on their family’s income.
Under the distribution system that will be utilized for the remainder of the school year, district employees will be using their judgment when handing out items for the Backpack Buddies program.
"We’ll be using our good judgment," he said.
The free meals offered for pick-up each day for all children will continue. And families who have benefitted from Backpack Buddies in the past can ask for the additional food for the weekend.
Potter said district employees also may be familiar with families who are in need and would benefit from the Backpack Buddies program.
Potter hopes the first distribution of Backpack Buddies food items can take place Thursday. Because of Good Friday, the meal pick-up sites will not be open Friday.
Potter said district officials also are looking at possibly increasing the number of locations where children can pick up free meals each day.
"That’s something we’re actively researching," he said.
Currently, this service is being offered at Anthony and David Brewer elementary schools.