Thousands of San Diego Kids Go Hungry Every Day

San Diego County has the 13th highest poverty rank in the United States, with 13.8% of San Diego's total population living below the federal poverty threshold.

Tens of thousands of children in San Diego County live in poverty and face the threat of hunger every day. During the week, these children get free breakfast and lunch through school feeding programs, but on the weekend their bellies are often empty.

In 2006, the Food Bank started the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program to provide weekend backpacks full of nutritious, child-friendly food to kids in elementary schools throughout San Diego County. These weekend backpacks ensure that they have enough food to see them through the weekend until they return to school on Monday morning.

According to teachers, the program has a significantly positive effect on the students’ grades, social interaction with peers, and attendance. This is because nutrition affects a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. Children who do not get nutritious food for their bodies are more likely to have problems learning, growing and interacting with their teachers and peers.

  • How does the program work?

Every Friday afternoon students on the program are called out of class, often to the school nurse’s office, and are discretely given a bag of food which is tucked into their backpacks. The discreet distributions remove the stigma that might be attached to the program.

  • What food items are included in the backpack?

Each weekend backpack contains shelf-stable, child-friendly food items such as: peanut butter and jelly packets, beans and franks in pop-top cans, ravioli or stew in pop-top cans, soup in pop-top cans, fruit bars, cereal, tuna fish pouches, corn cups, diced carrots, mixed fruit cups, juice boxes, raisins, granola bars, shelf-stable milk, and macaroni and cheese.

  • How are children selected for the program?

School teachers and nurses identify students who display signs of “chronic hunger.” Warning signs include frequent stomach aches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty interacting with classmates, hoarding food from the cafeteria, and absenteeism. Once a child has been identified as “chronically hungry,” a permission request form is sent to the student’s parents to enroll the student on the Backpack Program.

  • Which schools participate on the program?

Any San Diego County elementary school with 80% or more children receiving free school meals is eligible. This means that the majority of the students attending the school live at or near the poverty level. For the 2020-2021 school year, the Food Bank will serve 3,300 children on the program at 58 elementary schools in 14 school districts throughout San Diego County.  

  • How much does it cost to feed a child?

It only costs $200 to feed a child for an entire school year, $22 for one month, and $5.50 for one weekend.

How can I help? Visit for more ways you can help.

NOTE: The United States federal poverty threshold is:

  • $12,760 - single person under the age of 65
  • $26,200 - family group of four, including two children

Photo: Getty Images

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