Printed on August 13, 2019

Backpack buddies provides needed nutrition for area’s children

By B.A. Belthoff / The Bulletin

Life is better with a buddy, and for some children in Brazoria County, the Dream Center is one of their besties. The Brazoria County Dream Center Backpack Buddies Program is a year-round initiative that started in 2009. The Center provides children from low-income homes with backpacks filled with nutritional food to take home from school, so they have healthy food to eat over the weekend when they might otherwise go without.

In 10 years, participation has multiplied from one school with 30 children to 30 schools in six school districts serving 450 students per week. And that’s every week of the year, not just the school calendar year.

Providing this massive quantity of food on a yearly basis requires many hands and a lot of organization. Just doing the math of 450 students for three days in a weekend, times three meals a day, times 52 weeks a year, and it seems Brazoria County Dream Center Executive Director Terri Willis has cornered the market on the latter. She credits the help of sponsors, such as the United Way of Brazoria County, and the help of local businesses to make it all happen. “All these events require lots of organization and lots of people.” And she’s grateful for every single one of them.

Children are identified by teachers, counselors and the school nurse. There are four signs of malnutrition. (See inset to right.) Proper nutrition is a requirement for brain and academic development. “If a child meets the criteria, then they’re in the program,” Willis says. “When a child has proper nutrition, they are less fidgety and less distracted in class. Because they are not searching for food, they can focus on their [class] work.”

The Houston Foodbank has a similar program, but all the backpacks provide the same types of food. Because residents of each school district in Brazoria County have unique needs, such as some don’t have microwaves to heat food, while others lack electricity. Willis is sensitive to provide the right types of food to meet the diverse needs of a child’s home setting.

She stressed that the backpacks are filled with foods rich in protein, not high in carbohydrates, because protein is a brain food. Foods like fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, peanut butter-filled snacks, protein bars, and milk are all foods that are filling and will support growth and brain health. If they know a child comes from a home without electricity, they will include shelf-stable milk, because it doesn’t require refrigeration.

During the holidays, children within the Buddy Program are given what is called double bags. Larger boxes of cereal, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese, beans and rice, large cans of ravioli – larger quantities of everything – to help support the family as well.

Over the summer, the Dream Center partners with local Boys and Girls Clubs to provide meal assistance for children from low- to moderate-income families. The Dream Center fills the weekend gap by providing backpack meals for 550 children.

Where does all this food come from? The center purchases the food with the help of sponsors and local businesses. Willis explained they do this so they can meet the unique needs of each child in every school. In addition, each school conducts a food drive. Some have tuna drives while others may choose peanut butter or cereal for the theme of their food drive. She encourages participation by everyone.

“Even the smallest donation can make a big difference,” she reminds us. By bringing just one can of tuna to a food drive, it will provide a meal for someone else. “You can even hold a food drive, yourself, and bring what you collect to the center.” She promises the food will not go to waste.

Bring any food donations to the center, located at 792 S. Hwy 288-B, Clute. If you’d like more information on the program, email suzi@bcdreamcenter.org.

(New-ish Texas resident B.A. Belthoff welcomes your comments. You can reach her at babelthoff@gmail.com.)