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Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Revamps BackPack Program - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Revamps BackPack Program

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The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has rolled out a new program that steps up its mission to curb hunger, while also being a better steward of resources. It has revamped its "BackPack Program" to feed not only children in need, but now their entire families.

It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to operate all 15 backpack sites in the area - making it a challenge to sustain the program. But after testing the new model for more than a year, it's proving the food bank can cut costs without cutting corners.

For the past seven years, the BackPack Program has put a dent in hunger, providing children with meals to carry home on weekends and school holidays. But over the course of time, the food bank discovered that was addressing only part of the problem.

"But then we got to thinking, if a child is struggling with hunger then that child is also coming from a household that is struggling with hunger," said Joseph Caputi, branch manager for the Charlottesville area.

So the food bank has come up with a new solution: Instead of just feeding kids, the program has been revamped to feed an entire household.

"So we've come up with the family style BackPack Program, which is the same principle but we're now stuffing those sacks with larger portions that can bridge the family through the weekend and during time off from school," said Caputi.

The items include mixed fruit, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, chicken and cereal.

"Good wholesome food that you can make very good meals with," said Caputi.

The best news about the revamped model is that it's feeding more people at a fraction of the former cost. The old BackPack Program provided six meals per week at $4.92 per bag, costing more than $400,000 per year. The new program more than doubles the meals to 15 per week, at $4.64 per bag, and lowers the cost to $379,000 annually.

Nearly 2,000 students and their families are benefiting from the family-style program - 430 of which are in the Charlottesville area.

The new BackPack Program officially began this fall. The meals are designed to last each family for about a month's time but can be handed out in three or four distributions.

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