LONDONDERRY — When a child leaves the classroom for the weekend, there might not be enough food on the home table until Monday morning.
That’s why local organizers of the program End 68 Hours of Hunger hope to help keep children well fed when they are not in school.
Rachel Yakey offered a presentation on End 68 Hours of Hunger at a school board meeting May 21. Yakey is also a reading teacher at Londonderry Middle School.
End 68 Hours of Hunger was born in New Hampshire in 2011.
“The program started in Dover to help feed children over the weekend,” Yakey said.
The all-volunteer nonprofit effort provides backpacks filled with nutritious food that are distributed at participating locations on Friday with enough to feed a child the equivalent of two breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners — the amount to fill a weekend meal schedule until the child returns back to school Monday morning.
In Londonderry, the program is being piloted at South Elementary School.
“And the next week, we do it all over again,” Yakey said.
Yakey offered information on what potential risks are when a child faces hunger. That could mean less success in elementary school, developmental issues and social and behavioral problems.
According to statistics provided by Feeding America, food insecurity can potentially be very harmful to individuals of any age, but especially for children. The USDA estimates that in 2017 more than 12 million children in the United States lived in food-insecure households, or about one in six that are struggling to have access to enough food for a healthy, active life.
And in 2017, Yakey offered information on New Hampshire’s numbers, with more than 31,000 children potentially living in food insecure homes, and 47% of those not eligible to receive federal nutrition aid like food stamps or other help.
“This program could even support the entire family,” Yakey said.
The program has spread across the nation, with chapters in several states. Here in the Granite State, more than 30 communities have End 68 Hours of Hunger chapters along with Londonderry including Derry and Salem.
Right now, Yakey said there are about 19 children taking part in the program in Londonderry and receiving food on Fridays at South School. The children are referred by school administrators and any background information is kept completely confidential.
“We don’t know anything specific about the child,” Yakey said. “We know a number.”
South School Assistant Principal Chelsea Hunnewell said schools know their students best. South was chosen for the pilot program, she said, due to its numbers of children receiving free or reduced lunch.
A plain backpack does not draw any attention to the program or recipient.
Backpacks distributed to children are filled for the weekend with food donated or purchased through generous donations, Yakey said, and include cereal, snacks, nutrition bars, canned foods like pasta or tuna, oatmeal, crackers and soups. Many backpacks are also donated to the program.
“Our children are very proud to get the backpack,” Hunnewell said.
Backpacks are returned on Monday and the week begins again to organize and collect food for the Friday distribution.
End 68 Hours of Hunger is personal for Yakey.
She said she got involved in forming the Londonderry chapter last year, not only because she sees children everyday, during a regular work schedule at her school, but also because growing up, the program could have helped.
“It comes from the way I grew up,” Yakey said. “I was definitely a kid that could have benefited.”
School board members heralded program organizers’ efforts to support children in need in the district.
“I grew up in a poor family, and for me it was just about being hungry,” board member Steve Young said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about the food program here.”
An End 68 Hours of Hunger collection effort is planned for Saturday, June 15, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Londonderry Market Basket. Donations of food, money or gift cards are all appreciated.
“People are amazing,” Hunnewell said, “and families are so thankful.”
Yakey hopes the program will spread to include more at-risk children that might need those important weekend meals.