Grocery bags of milk, juice, granola bars, canned fruit, crackers and more are zipped into 45 backpacks every Friday at the Perry Elementary School.

The bags are part of the Food Bank of Iowa’s BackPack Program. School Community Liaison Megan Maylum distributes the bags anonymously to those on her list at the end of every week.

She talks with teachers to identify those in the elementary who display chronic hunger signs. Signs like kids hoarding or stealing food, if they are moody or if they look malnourished.

Last year, Maylum’s list for the BackPack Program had 60 names on it, with 10 on the reserve list. The Food Bank of Iowa capped that number at 45 this year. The number was capped, Maylum said, because more schools are starting to participate in the BackPack Program.

The program is funded through the Food Bank of Iowa. Boxes of eight bags are sent to Perry Elementary every other month. The bags contain a variety of non-perishable items for the BackPack Program.

Maylum spoke about the program during a Perry City Council meeting on March 5. She said during the meeting that 70 students could be served by the BackPack Program. Seventy-five percent of the elementary students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

She has since received offers to help supplement the program. Some of those offers came from the local Hy-Vee and Elk’s Lodge.

The program is funded through the Food Bank of Iowa, and it is capped at 45. Maylum can supplement the program through purchases made from the school’s pantry fund.

The high school, she said, also serves as a satellite site for the Food Bank of Iowa. Maylum can connect elementary parents with someone at the high school so they can have access to more food as needed.

“It’s supposed to be supplemental,” she said of the BackPack Program food. While a majority of the kids in the program have access to other sources of food, she said for others that is the only food they have over the weekend.

“It makes a big difference for when a kid doesn’t have breakfast,” Maylum said. “It’s obvious, there’s less concentration and it definitely makes them moody.”

The program not only helps get more food to those who need it, but it also helps connect the students to adults who can help.

“I have kids who are on the BackPack Program. Of course they know who brings them the food and I tell them ‘if this is never not enough for your family, just tell me and I will give you some extra food,’” Maylum said.

For more information, or to donate to the school pantry fund, contact Maylum at the elementary, 515-465-5656.