BONNERS FERRY — In Boundary County, one out of five children may be left with food insecurity. Some families fall under tough times financially and may not qualify for state assistance. That is where the BOCO Backpack program comes in to play.
The BOCO Backpack program is a food distribution program which is trying to ensure that the children that make up that statistic are receiving adequate nutrition. It serves about 160 children in Boundary County, which is 56 percent of the 70 percent of children who qualify. They serve kids at Naples Elementary, Mt. Hall Elementary, Valley View Elementary, and Boundary County Middle School, as well as Head Start.
“We work with Second Harvest,” said Shirley Anderson, Chairperson of the BOCO Backpacks program. “Second Harvest has a program called Bite2Go and they provide kits through the Bite2Go program.”
The program sends out about 3,000 kits every week.
“That gives them tremendous buying power,” explained Anderson. “We work with them because we can purchase a kit that will feed a kid through the weekend for $7.”
With BOCO Backpacks purchasing the kits from Second Harvest, they assist in keeping the cost at a minimum.
“We assist with Second Harvest by helping them have the buying power that is needed in order for them to purchase in large enough quantities so that they can give us a real buying advantage,” said Anderson.
The program has various fundraisers throughout the year to help fund the purchase of the kits. The biggest one is the ornament sale throughout the month of December. Fifth-graders from around Boundary County painted ornaments and donated them to the cause. The fundraiser began the first week in December at a craft fair, then it graduated to the Tree of Care at the Boundary Community Hospital and the Community Care Clinic where people could purchase the ornaments.
“We try to be visible throughout the county,” said Anderson. “We are at the Health Fair every year, we are at the Boundary County fair every year. This year we were at the fourth of July celebration and kicked off a fill the bottle campaign, where we had a donation of water bottles that we gave away to people with instructions on how to fill the bottle and then they would return those bottles to us filled with coin. That is just a couple of things we have done.”
With the continued community support, the group continues to battle against food insecurity of local children.
“It has been a great benefit, they send great snack like food,” said local mom Christine Gathers, whose son receives the weekly kits. “It has a balanced food selection that my child can grab and have for a snack. It has made it so I have not had to buy extra snack foods for the weekend.”
The kits come with nutritious, non-perishable foods such as cans of spaghetti, raviolis, corn, peaches, beef sticks, granola bars, milk, cereal, and a variety of other things.
“We love it, it helps us out a lot. Especially when you have limited food to feed children,” said local mom, Tabatha Covington.
The committee meets the third Thursday of every month at Trinity-Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. to brainstorm fundraising ideas and make other decisions.
“We simply need more manpower,” said Anderson. “We have a number of people that are incredibly generous with their time. They are already working with the program and distributing the food each week at the schools. We have that covered.”
What they still need is for people to attend the meetings and help them make decisions about the direction that the program is going, as well as how to go out and fundraise to make sure that the program continues to grow with the community.
With each member of the committee bringing individual strengths to the table, they work as a team to accomplish their goals. With more people comes fresh ideas, different outlooks on topics, and helping hands.
“Our group has brought awareness to the problem, and I think that is one of the pluses towards what we are trying to do,” said Anderson. “We are also trying to do something about it. This community has been very generous in donating monetarily to our program so that we can purchase these food kits from Second Harvest and send them home with kids.”
To contact the committee, call Shirley Anderson at 208-255-9847 or visit BOCO Backpacks on Facebook. The next meeting will be held on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at Trinity-Lutheran Church.