A unique dinner held Wednesday at North Congregational Church in Farmington Hills may have drawn less of a crowd than organizers expected, but those who attended heard a powerful message.
Before guests dined on sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables and fruit, they learned how the "Bountiful Backpack" program helps Farmington Public Schools elementary students. Menu items, prepared and donated by Picasso Cafe on Grand River in Novi, mirrored the foods students receive in backpacks, to ensure they're coming to school ready to learn.
Pam Green said that when she was principal of William Grace Elementary School, which closed in 2010, she heard a number of her students talk about not having enough food at home or feeling hungry.
"I looked into a national program called 'Blessings in a Backpack'," Green said. After doing some research, she started the Bountiful Backpack program and filled backpacks with foods so simple that students could fix a meal even if an adult wasn't home.
When William Grace closed, Green wanted to ensure the program would continue and spread to other schools. So she approached Bonnie James, principal of Visions Unlimited, a post-secondary special education program for young adults ages 18-26 with developmental and physical disabilities.
The program has been "adopted" by the Farmington-Farmington Hills Foundation for Youth and Families, which raises funds to support it. James said Visions Unlimited students manage the inventory of groceries ordered from Busch's Fresh Food Market and pack the backpacks.
"They are learning skills in good citizenship and giving back to the community," she said.
James explained the program doesn't start at the beginning of the school year, because the district has to identify students who qualify. This year, she said, "There are 437 just in four elementary schools." That's up from 386 during the 2011-2012 school year.
Students must qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, and be in schools that receive Title I funding because a high percentage of students come from low-income families. James said while the district will send out letters to all of the families that qualify, not all will take advantage of the program.
Even if you weren't able to attend the Backpack Dinner, you can make a donation to the Bountiful Backpack program. For information, visit ffhfoundation.org.