January 29, 2010

Food insecurity is a serious issue for many adults and children in the United States and Kentucky. Members of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service are helping fight hunger in their communities through the BackPack program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's report on American Household Food Security for 2008 showed that 14.6 percent of American households reduced their normal eating habits sometime during the year because of lack of money or resources. This is the highest number of individuals since the USDA began the reports in 1995. In Kentucky, approximately 12.6 percent of its residents experienced some food insecurity in 2008.

Through the BackPack program, UK Cooperative Extension agents, assistants in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and their community partners provide food for children in their communities to eat over the weekend. The food is discreetly distributed to children at the end of school on Friday.

"It's really a good teamwork effort between extension and its community partners to help fight childhood hunger in a way that doesn't single out children or their families," said Liz Buckner, UK director of nutrition education programs.

The types of food distributed vary among counties, but are usually items children can prepare by themselves.

Todd County began its program five years ago and is funded by community grants and donations. Amanda Francis, the county's EFNEP assistant, said the program has been an overwhelming success with 118 students currently receiving food each week. She meets with each of the families in the program and discusses nutrition and food preparation.

"All are very grateful," she said. "The program helps some families get back on their feet and save money."

The program in Hart County started this summer, but is already having a positive impact on its children.

"We were surprised how quickly it's catching on," said Felicia Davenport, assistant for the county's Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program. "The children are really gaining confidence in having the program."

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