Children in Cheyenne, Wyoming are getting free bags full of nutritious food on Fridays to make sure they are eating well over the weekend. Friday Food Bag Foundation has been providing these bags to the children most in need and vulnerable to malnutrition since 2010.
Before becoming a registered nonprofit two years ago, Friday Food Bag Foundation was a volunteer-driven program started by a local law firm, Holland & Hart. It then grew and became its own foundation thanks to the support of many members of the local Kiwanis.
Executive Director of the nonprofit, Thomas Roberts, explains that Friday Food Bag Foundation "provides bags of food to grade school and junior high students. Each week during the school year for kids who do not have access to food or not enough food on the weekends."
The program works by giving out their bags of food each Friday to those children who received free or reduced cost school lunches. It operates within Laramie County School Districts 1 and 2 and in one school year, gives away more than 12,000 bags to children who need them most.
Friday Food Bag is entirely volunteer-run, which ensures all the costs are kept down and means that all the donations they receive go straight to providing food for the children.
Each bag costs about $5, all of which goes towards finding a good balance of price and nutrition. When Holland & Hart first created what became Friday Food Bag, they hired a nutritionist.
Roberts explains that the nutritionist was told: "Here's the parameters: we want to be able to give kids food on Friday, it can't be perishable, it has to be easily cooked." When choosing which food was to go in the bag, the emphasis was very much on ensuring they provided the child with everything that would provide nutritious meals over the weekend while also being extremely easy to prepare.
"They get the cup-a-noodles, mac and cheese, ravioli, the fruit and grain bars, the chewy bars, the juice, peaches, fruit," says Roberts. "It's anything that a student can eat that they don't need necessarily to cook, other than a microwave oven."
The food itself is delivered once a month and once the volunteers unpack it, Friday Food Bag has "a bag filling where people come in and they fill the bags."
The filling takes no time at all and is quite an event to observe. Each food item type is placed is a different box along a long table and, starting at one end, each volunteer takes an empty bag and flies down the line, adding one of each item to the bag.
Once at the other end, the bags are placed on a table where they are stapled closed by another volunteer.
One of the walls of the Friday Food Bag Foundation headquarters is covered by long shelves, both sides of which are covered with already filled bags. The bags are then delivered to the schools by volunteers each week.
The bags themselves are plain, brown paper bags so as to prevent drawing attention to the children who receive them. There is sometimes a stigma associated with receiving free lunches and Friday Food Bag is very careful to make sure that the children they help aren't seen to be receiving anything other than what is necessary for them to be healthy.
Once the bags arrive at the schools, they are given out to the students by the teachers and guidance counselors. Due to the confidentiality of the free and reduced lunch programs, only certain staff members in the schools are allowed to know who qualifies for the Friday Food Bag food.
Unfortunately, Friday Food Bag Foundation is unable to provide food for all of the 45.8% of students in Laramie County School District 1 and 36.4% in District 2 who qualify for free or reduced lunches. It is then up to the staff members to evaluate the needs of the children in their care and decide which children need the bags the most.
Roberts explains that "we concentrate on the students who get free because there's almost 2600 of them in the school district that qualify just for the free lunches."