Little Cypress Elementary is piloting a program for the Little Cypress-Mauriceville District which will provide food during the weekend for children whose teacher, counselor, school nurse or other school personnel recognize as exhibiting signs of hunger. The school is partnering with Faith United Methodist Church and the Southeast Texas Food Bank to implement the “Bear Cub Weekend Backpack Food Project.”

Although Faith UMC is spearheading the project, other area congregations, such as First Baptist – Orange, Little Cypress Baptist, Fellowship Church of Christ, Common Ground Baptist, and North Orange Baptist have signed on to help sponsor backpacks of food for children who often go hungry on the weekend. The “Backpack” program came out of the “Feeding America” project and fills the gap for children whose only meal for the day is what they eat at school.

According to Stacey Nichols, counselor at LCE, there are some common traits that alert school personnel to the children who are not being fed at home. Anxiety at lunch on Friday, eating leftovers from other kids’ trays, extreme thinness, short attention span and an inability to concentrate, and much more are telltale signs that a child may be experiencing hunger. Shari Chesson, RN, says that those who are hungry often complain of stomach pain and end up in the school nurse’s office.

Although the “Backpack” program is administered through the Southeast Texas Food Bank, the organization is at its maximum capacity for supporting schools through its traditional funding sources, so the LCE program will be funded through church, civic and individual sponsorships. To fund one child for weekends through the entire school year, the cost is $175.

Meal packages for the weekend are loaded into zip lock bags and put in the children’s backpacks, so that there is nothing that distinguishes them as a recipient of the program. All of the food sent home is kid-friendly, since many times the parents are not present for long periods of time. The weekend menus vary and there is a tracking system that the Food Bank uses to determine the effectiveness of the program.

School officials stress that this program is not limited to those who meet the free and reduced lunch criteria set by the federal government and many on that program are not going hungry at home. Children must be referred by one of the school personnel using a referral form that looks at behavior demonstrating food insecurity, physical characteristics, and school performance.

Those interested in donating may make checks payable to the Southeast Texas Food Bank, but put Little Cypress Elementary on the “For” line on the bottom left of the check, otherwise the money will go in the SETX Food Bank general fund. For additional information, contact Stacy Nichols, LCE Counselor, at 886-2838, extension 4160.