From packing leftovers to filling backpacks, programs make sure kids don’t go hungry

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ELKHART, Ind. — It all began with a small announcement from the Elkhart Independent School District that their schools would begin packaging up unused cafeteria food into meals kids could take home.

Here's how it works: cafeteria workers collect unused food at the end of each day, and the nonprofit Cultivate picks it up and repackages it. Those pre-packed meals are frozen and then handed out to students each Friday, so they have food for the weekend. It's a simple idea with a phenomenal impact.

"It was heartbreaking to hear that children go home on the weekends and they don't have anything to eat," Elkhart chamber member Melissa Ramsey said. "It just really all came together and it's making a big difference, so I'm really proud of that."

A story posted about the effort quickly went viral.

Here in Chicago, CPS has implemented a food share program where all cafeteria surplus is donated to local food pantries. A lot of it is produce, which is desperately needed at food banks. Last year, more than 9000 pounds of fresh produce went from Chicago Public Schools to pantries.

The greater Chicago Food Depository also sets up Healthy Student Markets in 35 schools twice a month, where kids can shop and take home whatever they need.

While there isn't a weekend food assistance program in CPS schools, nonprofit "Blessing in a Backpack" delivers backpacks full of food to 13 schools in the city every Friday. Their mission to ensure "hungry-free weekends" feeds over 1,700 students in Chicago.

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