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Backpack Program Fills the Weekend Gap For Students

The BEAR Necessities: Backpack Program, formerly known as “Friday Feast,” is a program run by the Ava High School LEADs class whose mission is to alleviate the hunger of our students on weekends by supplementing their food sources at home with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food.
Started by Liz Kyger, the program has been in place for the past eight years and provides food each week for almost 200 children, preschool through second grade, who are part of the free lunch program. In the future, they hope to reach the kids who are on the reduced lunch program, as well.
Each bag of food includes two breakfasts, two lunches and snacks. Items may include: applesauce, easy mac, canned pasta, jello, pudding, soup, cereal, peanut butter crackers, fruit juice, instant oatmeal and granola bars. All of the food is nonperishable and provided free of charge.
Each week the LEADs class forms an assembly line to bag the food for each child. After the bags are packed, initials are written on the bags and delivered to elementary classrooms. The teachers keep it anonymous by putting each bag in the child’s backpack when students are out of the room.
Information about the program was sent home with all students in PreK through grade 2. Parents must complete the enrollment form and qualify for the free lunch program. After the enrollment form and lunch application are processed, eligible students will begin receiving the weekend backpacks. Enrollment is not automatic; parents must complete the enrollment form and return to the elementary school. The weekend food backpacks will begin to be distributed Sept. 1. Parents may enroll at any time during the school year.
In the past, Ava R-1 has received money from local churches, organizations, businesses, and individuals. Funds have also been received from grants, school clubs and the Ava School Board. The LEADs class also collects and recycles aluminum cans to provide for the program.
Since the LEADs class runs the program, there are no administrative costs. All funds go directly to meet the hunger need. Last year $13,000 was raised by the students to help fund this program.
If you would like to support the program, checks may be made out to Ava High School with BEAR Necessities in the memo line. Donations may be mailed to LEADs, P.O. Box 338, Ava, MO 65608. If you have cans to donate or need more information, contact Julie Taylor at or 417-250-0691.