This is a guest post from Susan Kochinskas, a volunteer with the Putney Foodshelf. We asked her to provide more info on the Putney Foodshelf Family Food Bag Program, which is modeled after the Vermont Foodbank BackPack Program.

The Putney Foodshelf has been running  Family Food Bag program for the past two years quite successfully. We did not qualify for the Vermont Foodbank’s BackPack Program because they are grant-based and are limited to the number of schools they can do. They currently serve two schools in Brattleboro (Green Street and Oak Grove). They typically go into schools with high free- or reduced-price lunch numbers (Putney is at about 52% — the Vermont Foodbank is serving schools at 85%).

[Editor’s Note: The Vermont Foodbank BackPack Program currently serves more than 1,000 students at 24 schools. Learn more here.]

From the Vermont Foodbank website:

“Bags of kid-friendly, non-perishable, vitamin-fortified food from all five food groups are packed at the Vermont Foodbank and then distributed to participating schools. Guidance counselors, along with school nurses and other staff, will determine those students they deem most in need and send permission slips home to their parents explaining the program. To reduce any stigma, packs of food are placed into the backpacks of those children participating in the program while the students are not in the classroom.

“The packs contain about eight food items for the weekend; each pack contains similar items. Some of the items might be: canned fruit and veggies, cereal, milk, cheese, and soup.”

So after helpful conversations with Vermont Foodbank staff, we decided to design our own program.

Putney Foodshelf

We work closely with the Putney Central School guidance counselor and Putney Family Services to identify the neediest families. We try to take into account whether they can get to the Foodshelf or not as our hope is that this program serves as a gateway to getting them to feel comfortable enough to come to the Foodshelf to supplement what they have.

We recognize that if a kid is hungry, the whole family is probably struggling, so send home a bag on Fridays filled with food for the whole family. We currently serve 47 individuals (a mix of adults and children) weekly through our FFB program.

Last year, I did a cost analysis, which is shared below.

Family Food Bag:

Breakfast (always includes milk and some sort of breakfast item)

  • $2.55     2% milk (half gallon)
  • $2.99     cereal
  • $2.99     breakfast bars
  • $1.69     instant oatmeal

Lunch (always includes a loaf of bread – not white – and peanut butter, jelly, tuna fish, or mac n cheese)

  • $1.55     bread
  • $2.19     peanut butter (18 oz)
  • $1.99     jelly
  • $ .89     tuna fish

Snacks/Misc. (we try to include one veggie snack or a fruit snack along with either chips or cookies)

  • $1.25     bag of baby carrots
  • $1.27     cucumbers
  • $1.36     salad mix
  • $1.75     green peppers
  • $4.00     trail mix or chips

Dinners (typically includes a meat and starch and some sort of vegetable, either canned, frozen or fresh)

  • $ .79     mac-n-cheese
  • $1.00    rice
  • $ .79     beans
  • $ .79     pasta
  • $1.19     spaghetti sauce
  • 20.00     ground beef (family pack)
  • $9.00     roaster chicken
  • 14.00     chicken parts (family pack)

Typical bag costs: $50/week

(10 families = $500/week or $26,000/year)

The issue is not so much the cost but more of an issue of getting folks to come to the Foodshelf where they can get more food and have a wider choice of food. We almost always have milk, eggs, meat, and fresh produce as well as variety of canned goods. We continue to work at breaking down the barriers that keep folks from coming. We have a grant for 2015 to offset about half of the program costs as well as get most of what is listed for free through savvy shopping and food drives.

Most of what we put in the Food Bags we get through ordering at the Vermont Foodbank, at zero cost, plus food drives and fresh produce donations during growing months from Harlow and Walker Farms. When we cannot get the above items for free, we have to buy it at wholesale costs.

This program takes about seven volunteer hours per week to manage. There are lots of moving pieces to this puzzle in getting the program to work. There has to be buy-in from the school, with knowledgeable people choosing who will be on the program, and help at the school to ensure the bags of food are going home with the kids. It works best if everyone involved with hunger from the area can meet and figure it out.

We tell Putney FFB families they will get bags for fall or spring or summer. We try to move folks off and have Putney Family Services follow-up with the past and current families to make sure they are getting all the services they qualify for and encourage them to come to the Foodshelf to fill the food gaps.

We partner with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church Outreach members, who come to Putney on Fridays to put the bags together. The weekly boxes have already been built, so they are just stopping by the Foodshelf to pick up frozen meat, vegetables and recipes, if appropriate. They continue to the General store where they pick up milk and bread. Then on to the school where they go into the storage room space we have and build the bags. Finally the bags get delivered to the kitchen walk-in and are distributed at the end of the day.

The Putney Foodshelf provides supplemental healthy food for area people in need. They are located in the Putney Community Center, 10 Christian Square, and are open Tuesdays 6–7 pm and Saturdays 9–10 am. Visit their website here.