More support needed. GHS Weekend Nibbles Backpack Program provides meals to food-insecure students.

To the Editor:

In the United States, more than 10 million children live in food-insecure households. Throughout neighborhoods all around the country, including here locally within our Guilderland community, children and young adults go hungry every day.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, ”...a ‘Food Insecure’ household is one that lacks access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  In 2015, USDA data sources estimated that in New York State between 14.1 and 15.2 percent of households were considered food insecure.

Children are among the most impacted group of food-insecure individuals. During the school week, children who would go hungry are often helped by the federally-funded free and reduced-price lunch program. But on weekends, these same children often go without necessary dietary options, meaning they go hungry.

In the spring of 2017, the idea for a Guilderland High School Weekend Nibbles Backpack Program was introduced by myself, as coordinator of the School to Work Program, and by Heidi Cutler, school social worker.

We collaborated and sought to develop a program within the school and local community that would assist students who could benefit from nutritional support on the weekends, while also providing a meaningful opportunity for students to volunteer and gain vocational skills by learning about how to inventory items, store food products, and pack the backpacks. In addition, we had to establish mechanisms to ensure the confidentiality of those within the program.

Within GHS, Heidi and I, along with the support from Tom Lutsic, GHS building principal, members of the GHS administrative team, and numerous staff and support team members, began a weekend backpack program that provides GHS students, in need, with a backpack full of food for the weekend.

The GHS program partnered with the Guilderland Food Pantry, as well as the Regional Food Bank to provide approximately 100 backpacks of food to our students this past spring.  

The Guilderland Food Pantry has been extremely supportive of the GHS Weekend Nibbles Program.  From the start, Susan Hennesy, the director of the Guilderland Food Pantry, embraced this new initiative. When I contacted her, Sue was quick to offer weekly deliveries of food.

Sue, along with other volunteers, including Cindy Olsen, gathered food and made deliveries to GHS each week. They provided a wide and varied smorgasbord of food choices that was then sorted and packaged into the backpacks each week at GHS by students in the School to Work program.

In addition to the Guilderland Food Pantry’s food donations, the GHS program received significant financial funding from the Guilderland Letterman Foundation in the Spring of 2017.  It was through the Letterman Foundation’s generous monetary contributions that the GHS weekend backpack program had the financial means to join the Regional Food Bank’s weekly backpack program.

The Regional Food Bank, located in Latham, has a backpack Program that, “....helps alleviate child hunger by discreetly providing hungry children with backpacks full of nutritious and easy-to-prepare food on Friday afternoons so they have food to eat throughout the weekend.”

The Regional Food Bank offers a structured program that provides a specific, yet varying, menu of food items each week. Students receive nonperishable items such as canned goods and some perishable items such as loaves of bread and fresh produce (apples, pears, etc.) each week.

The Food Bank’s backpack program serves more than 5,000 students in 188 schools across 20 counties in New York State. Many local school districts participate in this program.

A major challenge we have faced by joining the Regional Food Bank Weekend Backpack program has been the per-student cost associated with participating, as well as the need to have volunteers drive to the Regional Food Bank in Latham each week to pick up the food and then deliver it to Guilderland High School.

That’s where the Guilderland Letterman Foundation jumped in, as well as Cindy Olsen!  The Letterman Foundation provided the initial funding for GHS to join the Food Bank program and Cindy made the food deliveries possible by singlehandedly picking up and delivering the food each week during the spring of 2017.

At GHS, we are truly fortunate to have received so much support this past year to make this start-up program a success. In addition to the financial and delivery contributions of the Letterman Foundation and Mrs. Olsen, our building principal, Mr. Lutsic, has helped to find space and resources to store and package the food for our students.

In addition, the Guilderland Parent-Teacher-Student Association, the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, and the Class of 2017 have all provided financial donations that will help us proceed forward and continue to participate in the Regional Food Bank program this upcoming school year.  Furthermore, the Guilderland Food Pantry has also indicated its desire to continue to provide food donations this upcoming year.

Another group looking to contribute this upcoming school year is GHS’s Investing in Your Future Club.

Members of the club will help to continue to raise money to support the Weekend Nibbles Backpack Program. The students in this club will host a variety of fundraisers over the course of the school year as well as helping to organize a food drive to help stock the shelves.

One of the most significant fundraisers the club members are hoping to run will be at the school’s open house on Thursday Sept. 28. Club members will be setting up tables where they will sell bottled water and other beverages as well as grab-and-go snacks for parents attending the open house.

They will also have several boxes for donations set up around the high school to collect monetary contributions. So please remember to see them and make a contribution or purchase a snack or beverage to benefit the backpack program.

As our program proceeds forward this year, in addition to financial donations, GHS is in need of volunteers to help with food pickups in Latham and delivery of the items to the high school. The pickups are once a week on Wednesday mornings. GHS has a weekly scheduled pickup time for the food at the Food Bank.

Afterward, the food needs to be delivered to the high school where students accept the food, take an inventory, and store the food until later in the week when the backpacks are prepared.

Any community members interested in helping to gather and deliver the food, would be greatly appreciated. Please feel free to contact me or Heidi Cutler at Guilderland High School. We may be reached by phone at (518) 861-8591, extension 1021 or 3025, respectively. We may also be reached by email at or . Further, if you are interested in making a monetary contribution to the Weekend Backpack Program you may also contact one of us.

As the GHS Weekend Nibbles Program proceeds into the new school year, we are seeking to continue to provide our food-insecure students with meals and dietary options that will help decrease the number of hungry students on weekends.

This program is helping to build a stronger community through a focus on providing for those in need and promoting volunteerism and giving back. We thank the many people and organizations who have already jumped on board to support the program.

We hope other parents and community members will also join us in any way they can to support this important endeavor.

Joan McGrath

Guilderland High School

Editor’s note: Joan McGrath, a business teacher at Guilderland High School, fills several additional roles: She is the Career Exploration Internship coordinator, the School to Work coordinator, and the Invest in Your Future coordinator.

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