Golden Eagle Backpack Program helps feed TAES students in need

Cooperative TAES/Joshua House program aims to help students get the nourishment they need to be successful students


Eagle Eye file photo courtesy of Lisa Hartsock

L-R: Jendy Maines, Lisa Hartsock, Mary Zosangliani, Amy Marten-Shanafelt

According to Pennsylvania Department of Education, more than half of the students at Tyrone Elementary School qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. For some of these children, the meals they receive at school are the best, or possibly the only nutritious meals they get during the week. So what happens when these children go home for the weekend?

Thanks to the Golden Eagle Backpack Program, a new cooperative initiative by the Tyrone Area School District and Joshua House Community Center, all children at Tyrone Elementary School can come to school every Monday nourished and ready to learn.

Volunteers from 4th grade help to sort and pack the backpacks.
photos courtesy of Lisa Hartsock
Volunteers from 4th grade help to sort and pack the backpacks.

The program offers a backpack full of nutritious meals and snacks for children in need. They are provided with food to last the entire weekend or over extended school breaks, free of charge.

“It may be hard to believe that some children in our community may only receive a meal or two over the weekend,” said Program Director Amy Marten-Shanafelt, “but come Monday morning, they often complain of their tummy and head hurting, or have trouble concentrating in class. Our goal is to give all children the opportunity to be physically and mentally ready to learn. Doing better in school may lead to other opportunities in the future.”

The Backpack Program is a nationwide initiative that began in Arkansas in 1995. A school nurse in Little Rock contacted their local food bank seeking for help for the children in her school that were suffering from hunger. She observed that the lack of adequate food was not only affecting their physical health, but also affecting their ability to learn.

The food bank responded to her concerns, providing hungry students in the school with groceries in backpacks.

Our goal is to give all children the opportunity to be physically and mentally ready to learn. Doing better in school may lead to other opportunities in the future.

— Amy Marten-Shanafelt, Golden Eagle Backpack Program Director

Lisa Hartsock, the Tyrone Elementary School Principal was very passionate about starting a program in Tyrone after witnessing the success of a similar program in Bellwood, where Hartsock worked prior to coming to Tyrone.

“There is a need in the district not just because we have a high number of economically disadvantaged students…but also due to the slumping economy,” said Hartsock, “There are middle income families in our community who are struggling to pay bills and keep food on the table.  This is one of the main reasons that this program doesn’t have any income requirements.”

To get the program started Hartsock worked with Amy Marten-Shanafelt and Jendy Maines of the Joshua House Youth Center in Tyrone.

All of the food that the children will need is packed up and distributed in backpacks, including two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, two snacks, and two drinks. The backpacks are distributed by their teacher on the last day of school before a weekend or long break.

“I like the fruit snacks,” said one elementary school student participating in the program.

Children of any family in need is eligible for the program. Parents can sign their students up for the program by filling out an Opt In form that can be found on the Tyrone Elementary School’s website, and then turning it in to Lisa Hartsock, the elementary school principal. Teachers can also recommend students for this program by filling out the same form.

Once in the program, students will receive a bag of food each week throughout the school year. The bags are not permitted to be opened until the child has returned home. It is the parents responsibility to check the food for ingredients that their child may be allergic to, or any expiration dates.

All the items are distributed according to the FDA and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

The child will receive the food in a backpack only the first week they receive food. The children are welcomed to use the backpack for personal use if they do not own one. For the remainder of the year, the student will be given food in a plastic bag that they can easily slip into their backpack.

“It’s good to have when I get hungry over the weekend,” said another student.

Currently there are almost 75 children participating in the program.

Some of the food that is provided to students in the program
photos courtesy of Lisa Hartsock
Some of the food that is provided to students in the program

The program is run through the Joshua House in Tyrone by Marten-Shanafelt and Maines. Twice a month, food is ordered and deliveries are unpacked from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Each week, community and school staff volunteers, including elementary school students, prepare the food to be packed, pack the bags and make the food available for the children to take home Friday.

All of the volunteers are coordinated by Mary Zosangliani from the Sinking Valley Presbyterian Church.

The program is supported solely by monetary donations from the community, no school district funds are used in the program. Because some food items may not be available at the Central PA Food Bank, the program may also ask for specific food donations. With monetary donations, orders can be made at a reduced cost, so those are highly appreciated as well.

“I’m extremely thankful to everyone who has contributed their time or money to help get this program up and running so quickly,” said Hartsock, “We will continue to monitor and gather student/parent feedback to improve the program.”

For more information on how support the program with donations, download the following brochure:

Golden Eagle Backpack Program Brochure

To enroll a child in the program, download the following form and return it to the Elementary School :

Golden Eagle Backpack Program Opt-In Form