Students in Jennifer Thogmartin’s Agriculture Leadership class are getting a lesson in helping out their fellow students.
Every Thursday, a group of students from the class packs bags of non-perishable food to send home with junior high and high school students in need, to make sure they have food to eat over the weekend.
The high school’s program pre-dates the formation of the district’s Bright Futures organization, which now handles the backpack program for younger students through a partnership with the Freeman Southwest Family YMCA.
Thogmartin said the junior high and high school program started in her class about three years ago, and at the time was feeding an average of 12 students.
While the number of bags they prepare each week varies, Thogmartin said they now average between 30 and 40 bags weekly.
On Thursday, agriculture leadership students Shelby Scroggins, Charity Coberley and Haley Long spent their first hour class preparing bags of food, filling them with items such as noodles, granola bars, donut sticks, and popcorn.
Coberley said some of the items have been donated, while Thogmartin shops for the other items, keeping a closet near their classroom stocked with supplies.
“We just tell her what we’ve run out of,” Coberley said. “It’s normally close to the same stuff. We always have granola bars, and we did noodle wars, so we have plenty of those, and things like ravioli, pudding and apple sauce.”
Thogmartin said the students also deliver the bags to the school’s counselors, though the identity of the students receiving the help is never revealed.
“We have three or four students who are in charge of packing the bags every week and they deliver them,” Thogmartin said. “It’s totally anonymous. We take them to the counselor’s office and the counselor’s office distributes the bags, so we do not know who gets the bags, we just know how many kids.”
Coberley said it feels good to know she’s helping her fellow students.
“I think it’s good,” she said of the program.
Thogmartin said the idea for the program came from a similar program FFA students were doing at Cassville.
“The principal and I were talking about it one day and came up with the idea because I had heard from another school that was doing it,” she said.
She said the two of them visited Cassville to see how the program worked, and then modeled Neosho’s program after the one they had seen.
“We had been doing a poverty study for our professional development with school at the time and they had been talking about the importance of nutrition and kids not being hungry when they’re trying to learn,” Thogmartin said.
It wasn’t long after the program’s launch that Bright Futures came along, and the weekend backpack program grew district-wide.
Thogmartin said she believes the students benefiting from the program are appreciative of the service.
“The students who receive the food a lot of times, you know they eat two meals a day and most of those are here at school, so this allows them to have food to eat over the weekend,” Thogmartin said.