Spotlight on: Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program

This interview is with Alanna Mallon, founder of the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, one of the many amazing recipient agencies we serve through our Produce Rescue and Delivery program.

What is the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program?

CWBP 1

This food, slipped discreetly into students’ backpacks on Friday, will help ensure children are ready to learn on Monday morning.

The Cambridge Weekend Backpack program is a food safety net for food insecure Cambridge public school students whose main source of nutrition is the school cafeteria. Every Friday, this program sends home two fresh lunches, two breakfasts, milk and fresh fruit to ensure that the students receive enough nutrition over the weekend so they are ready to learn on Monday mornings.

How do you work with with Food For Free?

Many other backpacks programs send home zero perishable items in their backpacks and I am proud to say because of Food for Free we are connecting these students to fresh fruit EVERY weekend. Because this program is growing and evolving so quickly, it has been so important to have a partner who has been willing to change and adapt. We went from exactly one year ago picking up 30 pieces of fresh fruit, to now having 180 pieces of fruit delivered to various different schools. We are proud to have Food For Free as a partner to our program.

What made you start this program?

Alanna Mallon speaks about the importance of the CWBP at the Cambridge Public Library.

I was inspired to start this program when I heard a story on NPR about similar programs for in other cities. As a Cambridge resident and a parent in the school system, I worried that there might be students at my children’s school who fell into this category and became determined to create a food safety net for them. Everyone knows hunger exists, but when you are confronted with the reality of it in your own community, it’s difficult to swallow. It’s so very difficult to learn when you are hungry. We need to take care of these students so their only worry is how to best learn the lesson at hand.

What are your favorite parts of the program?

My very favorite part is receiving emails from teachers and school staff about families who are happy to be receiving assistance in such a discreet way and kids who are excited to get their bag each weekend. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. I also have been incredibly grateful to receive so much community support for this program. The Cambridge community came out in droves in support of this program, both by donating and by volunteering their time! It simply cannot be overstated, the power of community, and Cambridge is one of a kind.

What is your greatest challenge?

The biggest challenge we face, like any other non-profit, is funding. Time and time again we hear that Cambridge is not “high needs” enough to qualify for funding from national businesses and foundations, and the Greater Boston Food Bank is not at this time adding any more communities to their existing backpack program. So we continue to rely on community support to fund this program.

CWBP volunteers sort food for delivery.

CWBP volunteers sort food for delivery.

Want to learn more? Visit the Cambridge Weekend Backpack program’s website, talk to them on Facebook, and sign up to volunteer with them through the Food For Free volunteer application!

 

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