In years past, because Rieke Elementary had instituted a "Take Food Home in a Backpack" program and Wilson High had not, Wilson teachers would shuttle hungry students down to the elementary school to pick up food. To Wilson High social worker Maureen Brennan,
that didn't feel quite right. She says she had noticed hunger issues among some Wilson students and thought the high school possessed the resources to provide food for students during the week and on the weekends without relying on Rieke. "Kids were hungry. Kids weren't focused in class. As a social worker those are the sort of things I'm looking for," Brennan said. But this year, the high school has implemented its own "Take Food Home in a Backpack" program in an effort to makie sure no Wilson student goes hungry. Now, with the help of donations from the community, students can enter Brennan's
office and receive non-perishable foods — preferably items containing protein, such as chili, pasta and tuna. Students can then place the food in a backpack and take it home for the weekend or evening. Brennan also receives bread, peanut butter and jelly from Neighborhood House so that lunches are available to students throughout the week. She says the sandwiches amounted to lunches for about 70 students in the first two and a half weeks of school. She also collects school supplies, including backpacks, binders, pencils, pens and notebooks for students in need. Brennan says about 20 per
cent of Wilson High students qualify for a free lunch, but she suspects that the need is even greater than that. Regardless, the "Take Food Home in a Backpack" program is available to all students. "Wilson has a high need of resources for some students. We also have students coming from families that are quite able to take care of themselves and are very generous. We have a great parent PTA. I thought, 'Why not put the word out.' I've been receiving donations almost daily and we have a closet that we're storing it in," Brennan said. Brennan is sensitive to the desire for privacy among stu
dents who need supplemental food and says backpacks are a perfect means of maintaining discretion. The dropoff spot for donations, room 146 at Wilson High School, is also next to the nurse's office and the school psychologist's office. "Backpacks are perfect. No one knows what is in a backpack. As you can tell, a lot of students come in and out of these offices. We have a nurse. We have a school psychologist. It doesn't mean that everyone coming in is in need of resources, but we're trying to be sensitive to that," Brennan said. In the past, Brennan used school funds to buy snacks for hungry students. But
with the help of donations and Neighborhood House, those funds can be used for other things. The program is still in its infancy and Brennan says she hasn't noticed dramatic effects yet. But she's more confident that Wilson can meet the needs of its students in her third year on the job than she was during her first two. "It's beginning to come on. We have a good couple shelves of food. We can meet the demand right now," she said.