By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Rotary Club of Quincy is bringing the "Blessings in a Backpack" program to Adams School.
Under this program, 100 students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches will be given the opportunity each Friday to take home a backpack containing snacks and food items to ensure they will have enough to eat over the weekend.
The first distribution took place Friday at the end of the school day. More weekly distributions will continue through the end of this school year. The program will then resume next fall when school reopens for the 2013-14 academic year.
Rotary Club member Mark Spiegelhoff, project chairman, said the goal is to help address a hunger issue facing many local children who may not be getting enough to eat on weekends.
"In many cases, unfortunately, there are situations with families who either don't feed their kids because of neglect issues or don't have enough money to purchase food for the family on the weekend. Or there are other issues that prevent them from adequately feeding their children," he said.
Items placed in the backpacks each week will consist of snacks and various nutritious foods that are "ready to eat or ready to make," Spiegelhoff said. For example, items might include granola bars, bowls of soup or perhaps macaroni and cheese that can be cooked quickly in a microwave.
"It's enough to help supplement -- but not fulfill -- all of their nutritional needs over the weekends," he said.
Spiegelhoff said the Rotary Club decided to jump in as a sponsor because club members have seen similar programs work successfully in other local schools, and they wanted to give the same opportunity to disadvantaged students at Adams, which was the only K-3 school in Quincy without a program of this nature.
"We're really fired up about this because the bottom line is we're helping kids, and our Rotary Club has a long history of serving needy families with food," Spiegelhoff said.
Blessings in a Backpack is a national, not-for-profit program that plays a role in feeding 62,000 children in 437 schools in 43 states and three countries, according to the agency's website (blessingsinabackpack.org).
The program feeds one child for 38 weekends each school year for $80. To serve 100 students at Adams School, the Rotary Club had to come up with $8,000 initially.
The club did better than that. Spiegelhoff, working on behalf of the club, managed to secure a commitment from a local foundation to cover all costs for the first three years of the Adams School program.
Spiegelhoff said the local foundation wants to remain anonymous, "but they're very generous to the regional area," he noted.
The foundation's initial $8,000 donation was turned over to the Quincy Public Schools Foundation -- the district's charitable arm -- and, in turn, was sent on to the Blessings in a Backpack program to cover the cost of food purchases for one year.
The Rotary Club then made arrangements with Hy-Vee through a competitive bid process to provide food items for the weekly distributions.
Under this arrangement, Hy-Vee delivers the food in bulk to Adams. The school's third-graders and Rotary volunteers will gather as a group each week to fill each backpack for the 100 participants.
Marcey Wells, principal of Adams School, said she wanted the third-graders to get involved as a service learning experience.
"It helps show them leadership skills," she said. "They get to be part of the great things going on, and they get to have that sense of pride of helping others, which leads into learning how to provide community service for people. I think it helps them learn how to give."
Spiegelhoff and Wells said hunger issues facing children are greater than many people realize. At Adams School alone, 71 percent of the school's 398 students -- roughly 282 youths -- qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and many of those children don't have ready access to enough food on weekends.
Since only 100 students could take part in the Blessings in a Backpack program, Wells said a special committee was formed at the school to determine which students, based on relative need, would be given the opportunity to receive backpacks. Letters were then sent to those students' homes so parents could opt out of the program if they wanted.
Wells believes the program will benefit many children who could use additional nutrition on weekends.
"Statistics tell us the more opportunity they have to receive adequate nutrition, then test scores go up, behavior increases, IQs excel. It's a win-win," she said. "They'll come to school Monday morning ready to go."