News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 10, 2014

VCSC expands Backpack Program for winter

Schools find work-around to keep food in hands of children during snow days, colder months

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Corp. backpack program is expanding to ensure students have enough food during days off due to bad weather.

The school district has worked with city officials, including the Terre Haute Fire Department, as well as fire departments in the county, said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.

During the winter months, when students are out of school because of inclement weather, family members can go to the nearest fire station to pick up a “backpack” or bag of food, Tanoos said.

During the polar vortex in January, when school was out for an additional week after Christmas break, school officials became concerned that some children might not have enough to eat, Tanoos said.

The district did send extra food home over the holidays through the backpack program, but that supply likely would have been depleted during the added week school was out.

Susan Eisman, a media specialist who started the backpack program at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, contacted Tanoos and raised concerns about how to help those children when school is out because of weather, Tanoos said.

He then contacted Mayor Duke Bennett and city fire chief Jeff Fisher about having backpacks at the city fire stations. “They were supportive and enthusiastic,” Tanoos said. Fire stations in the county also will participate, he said.

On Monday, bags of food were delivered to Terre Haute fire stations and to some of the fire departments in the county, said Tom Lentes, VCSC director of food services. Eisman and volunteers assembled the bags of food Friday, he said.

Each site will have a minimum of 10 backpacks, which include peanut butter, jelly, apple sauce, Vienna sausage and crackers, Lentes said. Some sites may have more.

The program will last from about the end of November to early April, Tanoos said. While the program focuses on days off because of bad weather, “There may be other times when students are hungry and out of food,” he said.

The district has been raising funds for the backpack program this year, and the community has also has stepped up its support, Tanoos said.

Jeff Fisher, Terre Haute fire chief, said the city and fire department support the initiative. “When schools are closed, these kids go without food,” said Fisher, who also pointed to the district’s high percentage of students on free/reduced-price meals.

“We’re on board with Mr. Tanoos and the school district as far as making it accessible for people to pick up the backpacks” at fire stations throughout Terre Haute, Fisher said.

According to Lentes, other participating fire departments at this time include Honey Creek, Sugar Creek, Riley, Otter Creek, Prairie Creek, Sandford, Seelyville and Shepardsville.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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