Friday Feast Backpack Program Is Now Called BEAR Necessities

The Friday Feast program, which was started by Liz Kyger about eight years ago, is now called BEAR Necessities: Backpack Program. The initiative is sponsored by student members of Ava High School’s Leadership Exploration, Application and Discovery (LEADs).
And, even though the program name has changed and Kyger is now retired, the mission of the program remains the same –– to alleviate the hunger of district students on weekends by supplementing their food sources at home with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food items.
The program provides nourishing food items for approximately 200 school age children ranging in age from preschool through second grade. These youths qualify for the free lunch program. Each bag dispensed includes two breakfasts, two lunch meals, and snacks. For example, offerings may include applesauce, easy mac, canned pasta, Jello, pudding, soup, cereal, peanut butter crackers, fruit juices, instant oatmeal, and/or granola bars. All food items are non-perishable and free of charge.
The effort is coordinated by the LEADs class, and weekly they assemble bags for each and every child. The bags are packed with care, marked with the recipient’s initials and delivered to elementary classrooms. Teachers then stow the bags in the appropriate backpack when the room is empty and the act goes unnoticed.
For students to participate they must qualify for free lunches and have a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. The information is sent home with prekindergarten through second grade students, and the forms must be completed and returned, as enrollment is not automatic. However, enrollment is open and parents may enroll their student any time during the school year.
Over the years, the program has garnered local support from churches, organizations, businesses, groups, and individuals. The LEADs class also collects and recycles aluminum cans to support the effort. In addition, the backpack program is free from any administrative costs, so all funds go to meet the weekend hunger needs of students. Last year $13,000 was raised in support of the program.
At present, the backpack program is gearing up for this year, with the first distribution ready to begin on Friday, Sept. 1.
LEADs hopes to expand their outreach very soon as they strive to also provide bags for students who qualify for the reduced lunch program as well.
Anyone interested in learning more about the BEAR Necessities program, please call Julie Taylor, 417-250-0691, or send an email to [email protected]