Plans are under way to help reduce hunger among a growing number of students attending Sylvania Schools.
In August, Sylvania Area Family Services will introduce a weekend backpack program at Hillview Elementary. The pilot program aims to provide children participating in the federal free-lunch program with enough food to get them through the weekend.
Jason Robertson, executive director of Sylvania Area Family Services, said more than 1,500 children who attend Sylvania Schools are enrolled in the federal free or reduced-cost meal program. "That number is pretty staggering," he said.
Nancy Crandell, spokesman for Sylvania Schools, said, "The numbers have increased as the economy worsened over the past several years."
In the 2005-2006 school year, 479 district students received free lunch and 157 received reduced-price lunches, according to the district.
A total of 636 students out of 7,609 during that school year were receiving these services, which amounted to 8.3 percent of the student body.
In the 2011-2012 school year, out of 7,474 students, 1,311 were receiving free lunch and 266 were receiving reduced-price lunches, bringing the rate to 21 percent.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Services income eligibility guidelines, a family of four qualifies to receive reduced-price or free lunch for their children if its income is between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level.
For the period between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, a family of four with an income of $29,965 would be at 130 percent of the poverty level. A family of four with annual income below $42,643 would be at 185 percent of the poverty level.
For Mr. Robertson, the numbers clearly mean that the program is necessary. Sylvania Schools Superintendent Brad Rieger agreed.
"The number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch is an indication that more families are experiencing economic hardship," he said.
Mr. Robertson said his agency has provided similar backpacks to students who participate in the agency's after-school mentoring program.
"Now that we have some funding to reach out to more [children], we'll see how it goes," he said.
Sylvania Area Family Services has received support and assistance from the Sylvania Rotary Foundation, Lourdes University, and Sylvania First United Methodist Church, but the agency is looking for more volunteers. The board of trustees of Toledo Community Foundation has given the agency a grant for $28,000 to fund the weekend program.
"We want to garner as much support as we can, so we can support the community at the level we are now," Mr. Robertson said.
More information on the program is available from Sylvania Area Family Services at 419-882-8415.