Kent State program gives back to local kids in need every week

One of Mighty Pack’s meals, ready to be delivered to children in need. 

Augusta Battoclette

A Kent State program aims to provide local elementary school students in need with food packs for weekends and holidays.

Mighty Pack is a food insecurity program that distributes food to students on the free and reduced lunch program at their schools to provide them with meals on days they are not in school.

“One of my graduate students wanted to do a master’s project on food insecurity, so she developed the concept of Mighty Pack,” said Natalie Caine, a Kent State associate professor of health sciences. “We took that shell of what she thought of and actually created the program.”

The program follows a systematic schedule each week: shopping for food on Monday, packing the food into individual bags on Tuesday and Wednesday and then delivering the bags on Thursday and Friday.

“We have these totes that the volunteers take to deliver to the sites,” said Jessica Brinling, Mighty Pack coordinator and graduate assistant. “It makes it easy for them to take the deliveries in and drop them off.”

The food chosen for the packs is carefully selected based on MyPlate recommendations for children.

Mighty Pack strives to protect the identities of the children receiving the packs each week, however, complete anonymity is hard to achieve.

“There are no names on them, but the kids know it goes to them and the teacher knows it goes to them,” Rootstown Elementary principal Jeffrey Turner said. “Obviously the other kids see that this child has the bag, but we certainly don’t broadcast it.”

The program not only helps the students it delivers to but parents as well. Even though Mighty Pack is designed to only give enough food for the student, parents then do not have to find meals for their growing children.

“I have actually seen them take it out and put it in a bag to give to their child Friday for lunch. Right here at the school,” Terri Cardy, outdoor educator at the Child Development Center said. “So they obviously didn’t have food to pack for their lunch for the week.

“Some families that are getting these have four or five kids with the family and are using this food to supplement multiple people in the family,” Brinling said.

One site Mighty Pack delivers to is not even a school. 36 packs are delivered to the Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority every week. These are for children living in Portage County that do not necessarily go to a school that Mighty Pack delivers to or are not on the free and reduced lunch program despite needing extra help.

“We’re very happy to know that there is a program out there and very thankful that could get our families in need and public housing connected with this program,” said Carolyn Budd, a special programs manager at Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority. “It has been a service that had been lacking for years in our area.”

Despite starting as a graduate student’s idea for a project, Mighty Pack has grown to have an impact on the community it helps.

“People think that Kent State is this bubble, but, you know, just five minutes down the road there is a housing authority that we deliver to,” Brinling said. “So there definitely is a need and if we get more food and money donations, we can definitely keep doing what we’re doing.”

Augusta Battoclette covers the College of Education, Health and Human Services. Contact her at [email protected].