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PAWTUCKET â€” It's a sad sign of the times when students tell their teachers that they don't get enough to eat on the weekends and other days that school isn't in session.
It's a problem that school officials have been aware of for years. However, when recent statistics showed that the city's average poverty level had increased substantially, the School Committee's Wellness Subcommittee decided to take action by launching a â€śBackpacks to Fight Hungerâ€ť initiative.
School Committee member Joanne Bonollo, chairman of the Wellness Subcommittee, said the existing program is one that the Wellness Committee members had learned about and had had discussions on for the last couple of years.
The program is funded solely through donations of non-perishable food items and/or cash and does not use any money from the School Department's operating budget. Backpacks are filled with food products and snacks and are sent home with the students determined to have the greatest need, she said.
â€śWe have been going back and forth on this for the last couple of years, but when we got the statistics on poverty levels, we knew we had to do something,â€ť said Bonollo. â€śJust a few years ago, our poverty was approximately 40 percent. What a difference a few years makes,â€ť she said.
Bonollo was referring to the report that Deputy Supt. Kim Mercer does annually for the Pawtucket School District's Title 1 funding based on the number of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches.
She said that in December 2012, it was statistically documented that the average poverty level at 16 schools citywide (grades K-12) was 77 percent.
Read more in our print edition.