A program that provides students from needy families with backpacks full of food on weekends will be expanded to add another 200 students this month, a Heartland Food Bank official said Friday.
The program, called Smile Packs, began in February in Highlands County with 100 students at Fred Wild Elementary School.
Of Fred Wild’s student population, 90 percent receive free or reduced lunches. That’s the school with the highest percentage of students getting federal meal assistance in Highlands County.
The program will expand to Woodlawn and Memorial elementary schools, the next two schools the Highlands County School District identified for the program.
Overall, 70 percent of Highlands County students receive free or reduced price lunches.
About 100 students at each of the schools will receive the backpacks, said Mary Foy, vice chairwoman of the board of directors for Heartland Food Bank.
The school district will identify the students who have the most need for the weekend meals, and teachers and guidance counselors will give their input, Foy said.
“Each Friday, the children will receive a backpack of nutritious child-friendly food for them to take home over the weekend,” she said.
The students return the backpacks, which are filled for the following week.
Foy said the food typically includes fruit, vegetables, granola bars and other items considered healthy.
Woodlawn is expected to begin its program next Friday, while Memorial will start around April 15, Foy said.
The program started at Fred Wild after a person wishing to remain anonymous sought a grant through Wal-Mart’s Fighting Hunger Together Program and received $50,000.
Foy said the hope is that in future years support from the community will sustain the program and enable it to expand.
Anyone seeking more information or wanting to support the program can call (863) 385-7885.