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Jan 11, 2013 7:47 PM by Drew Trafton- Q2 News

BackPack Meals Program gets a boost

BILLINGS- Friday was a good day for the BackPack Meals Program in Billings.

Program coordinator Ginny Mermel expected to be walking in to a meeting with Western Security Bank Hands of Hope campaign representatives to further explain a grant she wrote for her program.

She did have a meeting-but it wasn't being held with the purpose of explaining anything: it was to receive a check from Western Security Bank.

"When our selection committee reviewed the application for the BackPack Meals Program, we were astounded by the number of children in Yellowstone County who are hungry or facing chronic hunger," said Western Security Bank Public Relations spokeswoman Melisa Slunaker. "So we knew right away that we wanted to support this organization."

If you haven't heard of the BackPack Meals Program before, Mermel says its name pretty much says it all.

"Every Friday, while the kids are out at recess, caring individuals in our Title One schools, who've been trained to be really discrete about who they're giving the backpack meals to, slip a meal packet just like this in to the student's backpack."

The packets contain two shelf stable cereals, two 100% percent fruit juices, shelf stable milk, two entrees which rotate, fruit and a snack bar.

On top of the surprise of learning BackPack Meals was a grant recipient, Mermel also learned that the check was written for $10,000-double the amount she requested when she wrote the grant.

The money could not have come at a better time for the BackPack Meals program.

"We were about 67 to 70 meals short of demand in October," said Mermel. "And thanks to a tremendous response from the community and from Western Security Bank, we know we're going to be able to feed these kids through the end of the school year."

The shortcoming of the program was not for lack of preparation, as Mermel notes that it allotted for ten to fifteen percent growth going in to the school year-but was blindsided by unprecedented growth brought on by families moving in from the Bakken developments.

Mermel says that effects of chronic hunger can include physical, emotional and intellectual development delays which could not only stunt growth in those areas, but also lead to students dropping out of school.

And it's because the battle against hungry children in Billings is far from won that Slunaker says Western Security Bank will continue supporting the program in a creative way.

"Our staff has recently taken it upon themselves to raise money for BackPack Meals Program through jeans day at our office," said Slunaker. "So, even before giving out this donation today, our staff had taken interest in BackPack Meals."

If you would like to help contribute to the BackPack Meals Program, you can send a donation to the Billings Education Foundation at 415 North 30th Street in Billings.

Make sure to add in a memo or note that you would like your donation to go to the BackPack Meals program.

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