Weekend meal program feeds Bridgeport schools’ hungry

Photo Provided Former Farm Bureau board member Devin Cain, left, and Bridgeport Middle School Principal Anne Lawson look over boxes of food packets for the Weekend Meal Program. Meals are available for students and families during the weekends.

BRIDGEPORT — Hungry students and their families have some extra meals to tide them over through the weekends of the school year since the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District is participating in the Weekend Meal Program.

Devin Cain, a former member of the Belmont County Farm Bureau board of trustees, spearheaded and organized the initiative in Belmont County with the philosophy that a child should not be too hungry to learn. While school districts including Bridgeport provide breakfasts and lunches to students who might otherwise go without, the students can lack food during the weekends.

This marks the district’s first year of participation in the program. Cain said the school has been supplied with meals to last through the end of the year.

He said the meal packages cost $2.10 each. For the 21 weeks from January through the end of the school year, Bridgeport was provided 152 boxes and 36 packages in each box, meaning 5,472 six-serving meals, or about 33,000 servings.

Bridgeport Middle School Principal Anne Lawson said 65 families are being helped. This makes about 130 people including students and families being fed over the weekends. She said any student from preschool through high school who can use some extra food over the weekends is eligible, but most participants are elementary school students.

Cain said the packets contain easy-to-prepare preserved food like tomato basil spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and oatmeal. Volunteers from participating communities come together and put the ingredients into meal packets.

“All the kids have to do is dump the contents of that package into boiling water,” he said. “There’s six servings in each package, so hopefully that feeds the whole family.”

He said the last packing event was in November at East Richland Evangelical Friends Church. Lawson said Bridgeport district volunteers will join in the next food packing drive in 2025.

Cain added that every participating school district can tailor distribution to their convenience. Some choose to place the food in backpacks.

Lawson said the meals are given to children at the end of the day to afford a measure of privacy.

“This is a great program, and we are trying not to single out the kids that are going with the packages,” she said.

Lawson said the first delivery was Jan. 12, the first full week back from Christmas break. The food boxes are stacked in the district building and Lawson said they have been dwindling since the start of 2024.

“I have every single box labeled for each classroom,” she said. “It says the classroom teacher’s name with the number of bags that go in that box. We fill the boxes, we load them onto our cart, we deliver them to the middle school, we deliver them to the elementary. I do it before school starts on Friday or Thursday morning.”

She said initial feedback has been limited but positive.

“They’re going home. We’re not finding them in lockers,” she said.

Lawson added the program is a valuable source of help.

“Our number of children that need free and reduced meals, it’s very high,” she said, adding that about 69 percent of the student population qualifies.

Lawson also commended the seventh and eighth grade talented and gifted students who volunteered their time to pack the weekend boxes.

“They’re the manpower, and they’re providing community support,” she said, adding that she hopes the seventh and eighth grade TAG students can coordinate with middle school TAG students to assist.

Bridgeport High School Principal Jack Fisher also commended the effort.

“It’s a great resource for our kids and some families,” Fisher said. “It provides multiple meals every weekend.”

Cain said in July, he will arrange for shipments of meals packed by an automated system run by the Outreach Program. This will last schools through the first half of the school year. A volunteer drive to prepare ingredients will be set for November, covering certain schools, and Cain will have meals to be shipped in for the rest.

He said the program is fully funded through the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds.

“We send kids’ information to Job and Family Services. They OK that those kids are in their program. If those kids are in their program, they reimburse us the money for that meal,” he said. “We try to spend whatever Job and Family Services gives us to make sure kids get the food.”

Lawson said students who attend a vocational school are also eligible and can pick up packages at the Bridgeport office. She said a questionnaire has already been sent to families in order to know the number of families to order for, but anyone who wishes to participate in the weekend meal program can contact her at 740-635-0853, extension 1014. To volunteer, call Cain at 740-391-0869.


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