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F.I.S.H. Backpack Program provides nutritious meals for students

By Staff | Aug 2, 2017

Volunteers Kara Stone and her sons Max and Charlie providing a helping hand in assembling backpacks for the F.I.S.H. Backpack Program. PHOTO PROVIDED

More than four years ago F.I.S.H. of SANCAP partnered with Blessings in a Backpack to offer the FISH Backpack Program, which provides assistance to youth with food insecurity.

Although the program is offered year round – throughout the school year and breaks – the organization is gearing up for the first day of school on Aug. 10.

FISH Backpack program is offered to children in kindergarten through eighth grade at the Sanibel School, pre-k ages at Children’s Education Center of the Islands, Sanibel Christian School and Summit Christian School.

F.I.S.H. of SANCAP Director of Operations & Grants Maggie Goldsmith said students who have been approved for free/reduced lunch through the Lee County School District are automatically eligible for the program. She invites parents who have children in pre-k to visit the F.I.S.H. Walk-In Center and talk with them to see what kind of assistance they can provide.

“We want the kids to focus on the task at hand at school,” she said, adding that their goal is to help the students to the extent possible to become their best selves, not having to focus on hunger.

The number of backpacks prepared is always on a sliding scale due to the family’s situation.

“Sometimes the family situation changes for the positive,” Goldsmith said.

That scenario also changes in the summer, when some families see their hours decrease, resulting in F.I.S.H. providing more assistance. She said the program is offered year round, during school and throughout the breaks.

The backpacks, which are packed by volunteers, can be picked up at the Walk-In Center Tuesday through Friday. Goldsmith said they have found it to be beneficial for the parents to own up to the responsibility of picking up the backpacks.

The task of filling the bags, preparing them for the weekend, now runs as a “well oiled machine.”

“Without volunteers it would be so difficult to manage,” Goldsmith said.

One of the features of the program is asking the parents, kids and schools their feedback, so F.I.S.H. can continue to improve the offering. Due to the feedback, Goldsmith said the backpacks are now packed with less processed and snack foods due to an overwhelming requests.

The backpacks are now comprised of more health conscious foods – fresh fruits and vegetables. Goldsmith said they pack such items as fresh apples, carrots and cheese and pretzels.

She said it can be challenging in terms of what foods they can pack that will remain fresh.

Blessings in a Backpack also started offering prepackaged foods that are added to the backpack full of protein, carbs and breakfast items, all low in fat and sugar and kid-friendly.

The concept of the backpack, Goldsmith said is to provide the child with the ability to grab something and make it themselves, providing them with more independence.

There are FISH Backpack Program forms available at all of the schools, as well as the F.I.S.H. office.

For more information, contact the Walk-In Center at (239) 472-4775. The center is located at 2430 Periwinkle Way.

In addition to Blessings in a Backpack, the Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club and private donors help support the program.