Backpacks lift hunger’s burden

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It seemed unlikely to Lakewood resident Peggy Halderman that there could be many children in the greater Golden area who did not have adequate access to food at home.

But then she looked at the figures.

“I pulled down the statistics and saw that there were more than 900 children in the Golden articulation area who are in free and reduced lunch at school,” the retired Halderman said.

From talking with existing food assistance programs, like the one in Arvada, Halderman knew that the accepted formula for determining the children without proper food access over the weekends, would be half of the free and reduced lunch number — 450 hungry Golden children.

“I was shocked, outraged. I took those figures to (Golden) Rotary, and I took them to (Golden City Council),” Halderman said.

Five years later, with the help of the city, Golden Rotary, the Golden Family of Churches Health Ministry, and a small army of volunteers, the Golden Backpack Program provides weekend food for more than 500 area students each week. The program’s demand peaked last year at 606 students asking for assistance.

For $4 per child the program provides a bag of groceries, providing two breakfasts, two lunches, a family-sized can of vegetables, two pieces of fresh fruit and some snacks.

A key part of the program’s success comes from its partnership with the Developmental Disabilities Resource Center. The Lakewood-based organization provides job training and employment opportunities for those with developmental disabilities.

The group provides food pick-up, warehousing, packaging, and delivery for the program. Halderman calls the partnership a “twofer,” keeping the program’s costs low, while also providing paychecks for the resource center’s adults.

“No matter what the program needed, the people and organizations here say that it is not OK that a child goes hungry in this community,” Halderman said.

“For us, it’s amazing,” said Janace Fischer, Pleasant View Elementary School’s principal.

Fisher said in her classrooms, where the greatest percentage of the program’s bags go, her teachers have reported better attention and less behavior problems since the program began.

On April 5, the White House recognized Halderman, honoring her as one of only 16 Rotary members from around the country to be named as Champions of Change, as part of National Rotary Day.

Back in Golden, the program’s volunteers expressed pride in seeing the programs director recognized.

In an email to her fellow Golden Backpack Program volunteers, Halderman wrote, “You all are such an important part of the Golden Backpack Team ... this one’s for you all as well!”

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