Cambridge nonprofit works with students to provide Weekend Backpacks

Alison Eddy, program coordinator, left, and a student sorting through a sandwich delivery on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Photo: Denny Hackett/BU News Service

Denny Hackett
BU News Service

This article was previously published in the Cambridge Chronicle

CAMBRIDGE — Stacks of sandwiches, boxes of goldfish crackers, crates of milk.

These are just a few examples of the snacks and meals that go into the weekend food bundles prepared for Cambridge and Somerville children by the Cambridge-based Food for Free program.

The food is packed every Thursday morning in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School kitchen before being shipped out to other schools across both cities on Friday morning.

Via the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, now in its fourth year, qualified students receive a food bundle that includes lunch and breakfast for Saturday and Sunday as well as snacks for both days.

As of October 18, 553 Cambridge and 269 Somerville students were part of the weekend program, according to program director Fiona Crimmins. The Cambridge number fluctuates from week to week but has stayed above 500 students for most of this school year and the program is growing in Somerville, she explained.

The program costs about $186,000 per year and funding comes from donations, some grants and some money directly from the state, she said.

Food for Free also works with dozens of other food programs around the Greater Boston Area.

The Backpack program partners directly with the high school’s culinary arts program.  Other than the organizers, students are the main lunch-packers on Thursdays. In many cases, older high school students are packing food for the younger students across the district.

Alison Eddy, the program coordinator, said it helps to bring the community closer by having the older students help with the packing. To her it brings the story full circle for a lot of students in the Cambridge school system, especially if they received food from the program when they were younger. Now they are the ones packing the lunches for younger students.

Culinary Arts teacher Cathy Thomas said she thinks the Backpack Program is a good opportunity for the older students.

“It’s good for the older students to help out and learn a bit of a sense of community by helping out the younger kids in the other schools,” she said as she oversaw students on a recent Thursday.

“It’s much less stressful when the students are helping out and working hard,” she added.

Senior Elena Moore said she loves working with Food for Free and giving food to the younger students across the district.

“When I’m helping out with the packing it makes me feel useful that I’m helping make their lives a little less stressful,” Moore wrote in an email. “I love to help other people, to make everyone feel happy and make a little positive change in the world.”

Crimmins said the food comes mostly from two companies. Sidekim Foods handles the shipment of the refrigerated foods, including the sandwiches and milk, while Thurston Foods helps with the non-refrigerated foods, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other snack food like crackers or goldfish. When students have certain dietary restrictions, Food for Free uses local grocery stores or Amazon to fill those needs.

In terms of organization, Thomas helps with the orders during the week to make sure the correct food is shipped in every Thursday. Eddy then works with the school liaisons and creates the lists of what food is being ordered for each school so they can pack accordingly.

It was a logical step for Food for Free to take over Somerville’s Backpack Program, Food for Free staff noted. Prior to taking over, there was already a working relationship in place between the programs so it made sense to combine the two.

“Taking over the Somerville program is in line with our goal of expanding our involvement with the school system,” Crimmins said.

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