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Community organizations working together to address food insecurity at Gary school

Michael Gallenberger
Lakeshore Public Radio
McCullough Academy Principal Sharmayne McKinley thanks members of The Links for helping to continue the National Backpack program at the school, during a press conference Jan. 13.

Many children who rely on school meals for their nutrition struggle with food insecurity on the weekends.

At Gary's McCullough Academy, about 300 of the school's 411 students qualify for free or reduced price meals, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. Now, 100 McCullough students will get a backpack of weekend meals, thanks to an effort organized by the Northern Indiana chapter of The Links.

"This year, our weekend backpack efforts are sustained by Purdue University Northwest's funding of $23,000," Chapter President Dr. LaVada Taylor explained during a press conference Friday. "The amount covers the cost of weekend backpack meals furnished by the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana for 100 students attending McCullough Academy until the end of the school term."

The service organization was first able to bring Feeding America's national BackPack program to McCullough, with funding from Baxter International's Black K.A.R.E. program.

Purdue Northwest Provost Chris Holford said the school's fundraising effort fits in with its focus on social justice and equity. "Food security remains a barrier for education in our communities. It is certainly one of the most important factors that affects educational success and overall educational attainment," Holford said.

Akilia McCain is a member of The Links, as well as the Gary Community Schools Advisory Board. She said the effort is one way to help students feel secure.

"Those things prepare you for the classroom. If you're hungry, you cannot learn. Your brain cannot process information. You cannot maintain attention. So these foundational things are what we seek to provide to our children because they deserve it. All children deserve it," McCain said.

McCullough Principal Sharmayne McKinley said the effort not only gives students the proper nutrition, but also lets them know there are others in the community who care. "We fuss all the time. We expect greatness. But when you see more people that's saying the same thing — we need to plant seeds because those seeds, sometimes, they might not be getting it at home. But the six hours that they're with us, we need to plant," McKinley said.

She called it a blessing to see the community show up to help the school's kids.