These days, teachers aren't just filling kids' backpacks up with homework.

At Otto Petersen Elementary in Scappoose, a group, many of them current and former teachers and school district employees, are sending students home with food. Every Friday, qualifying students from low-income families are given backpacks full of nutritious food that will last them through the weekend when school meals are not available.

According to the backpack program's steering committee, hungry children are sick more often and experience more learning problems than children who are getting enough to eat, making it difficult for them to succeed in school.

So far, the backpack program has received $390 in individual donations. The school's staff has been using the money to buy healthy food for kids who fall through the cracks of state meal programs.

In order to reach more families in need, the steering committee is considering merging the backpack program with a school food pantry in the Fall. The food pantry would make the program eligible for a Columbia Pacific Food Bank sponsorship as well as potentially provide access to USDA commodity foods.

“I don't care what we call the program as long as we feed kids,” said Cindy Kriek, lead secretary at Otto Petersen Elementary. For now, the program is supported mostly by individual donations to feed three students, but the steering committee has identified many more students in need.

The school is working with OSU Extension in order to ensure meals provided through the backpack program are healthy.

For more information or to donate contact Otto Petersen Elementary at 503-543-7111.

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