The Food4Thought Program is a local community donation-based food assistance program wherein bags of food are sent home with elementary-school children whose families qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The intention of this program is that these children, who may not have anything (or enough) to eat all weekend – will have some or additional nourishment so that they will not feel hungry, and will be ready to focus on Monday morning when they return to school.
The Food4Thought Backpack Program started as a class project by eleven Hastings College Education majors in 2007 (under the guidance of Dr. Judy Hall). Given that these students were graduating, they wanted to find a home for this unique program, an important program that they wanted to see continue. The F4T Program was then acquired by the Hastings College Child Defenders, supervised by Dr. Stephanie Furrer, but has since stood alone as an individual group (The Food4Thought Program). The Open Table, a committee that provides hunger-related resources in our community, and Catholic Social Services both oversee our finances. In addition, not only is our food housed and packed at Catholic Social Services, but we also receive 501(c) status for tax-deductible donations.
Currently, we have only a few student and community members in our group to help this organization run smoothly. In addition, we rely on volunteers from the Hastings community to help us pack the food, and Hastings College groups such as Habitat 4 Humanity, Alpha Phi, Pi Rho Sigma, Tri-Beta, and the American Schools, Developmental Psychology and Human Nutrition classes to deliver the food each week.
In addition to volunteers to help with food packing and delivery, we rely completely on donations from community groups, organizations, and individuals, as well as local grants, to buy the food we deliver each week. To feed a child for one semester costs approximately $200, and for a year is approximately $400. Overall, to provide for our families each year (for the cost of food and some overhead costs), we need approximately $39,000.
On average, we provide food to 100 families from the five public elementary schools in Hastings. Sadly, these numbers could be much larger, given that, according to the United States Census Bureau, 13.4% of the Hastings, Nebraska, population is below the poverty level (http://quickfacts.census.gov/, 2015), and, on average, 50% of students in the Hastings Public School system (kindergarten through 5th grade) qualify for free and reduced lunches, with a range of 84% to 16% at individual schools.