Terry Hood, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Every day, hundreds of Oklahoma school children go hungry. It affects their grades, their behavior, their basic security.
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma fights childhood hunger with thousands of sacks of food sent home in backpacks every week to kids in 24 counties, but more is needed.
News on 6 is committed to highlighting the Backpacks for Kids program over the next year.
It's a routine that plays out every week at the Food Bank's headquarters in north Tulsa. Volunteers sack up thousands of bags of food, then it's packed into boxes, ready for delivery to schools across Green Country.
"This is kind of the hidden elephant in the room. That there are so many people that are hungry," Cathy Elliot said.
Cathy Elliott has been coordinating the program and watching it grow by leaps and bounds over the past five years. Every week she hears stories from school coordinators that are simply heartbreaking.
"One little boy that's going to be in the program walked up to her and said, how did you know I was hungry?" she said.
They know, by simply watching. The backpack program is not based on an economic scale. Teachers and counselors look for children who come to school hungry. And in this economy, they're not hard to find.
"If we notice at breakfast or lunch that they eat everything on their tray and ask for seconds, if they're putting food in their pockets, if they complain in the morning about being hungry," Lora Leslie, a counselor at Chouteau Elementary said. "If they complain on Monday, that's a big part of it because they probably didn't get a lot on the weekend."
So every Friday afternoon, Lora Leslie loads up her little red wagon with 39 food bags and walks the halls of Chouteau elementary school, discreetly adding a little nourishment to the homework assignments the kids are hauling home for the weekend.
It's not a lot: some cereal, pop tarts, a fruit cup, some milk and crackers, but it is enough to make a real difference.
Sharon Ceasar has the honor and the challenge of raising her five grandchildren. They range in age from four to 13; three of them are students at Chouteau.
"They love to eat. They gotta put food in their mouths all the time. And I can't afford to keep food and snacks and everything for five kids constantly," she said.
But the backpack program goes a long way in easing her anxiety. Her grandkids stretch the food out to cover a whole week, saving it each day for after-school snacks. A simple routine, with real life consequences.
"It has affected their behavior. Cause, like my five year old, if he wants a snack and i have to say no, then he starts crying," Ceasar said.
Sharon Ceasar never planned on raising five grandchildren.
"No, not really, but I'm glad I've got them," she said.
And with a little help, they're doing just fine.
"They're my world now," she said.
Remember, just $160 will supply a child's backpack for an entire year. If you don't have $160 please give what you can. Our children deserve it.
For more information on how you can donate, check out NewsOn6.com/foodforkids