Eugene Bentley BR Food Bank, Baton Rouge Food Pantry

The end of summer marks the beginning of the school year for students. And while some children won’t be too excited about going back to school, others are looking forward to it. To them, it means returning to a life where meals may be possible again – it signals a child’s hope for food.

Enter Eugene Bentley, a licensed professional counselor who spends his time working with children at a local public charter school, where the Food Bank’s BackPack program actively provides food assistance to children in need. The program aims to support specific students who are at risk of missing meals over the weekend, when they are not in school.

“We have 36 kids who are part of the BackPack program and they look forward to it every single week,” said Bentley. “The BackPack program is not only able to feed the kids over the weekend but it is also able to help feed their siblings in some cases. That really helps those families out.”

Bentley sees students in his office daily who may be struggling in school for a number of different reasons. Many times, it is simply because they are hungry and unable to focus in the classroom.

“Think about this, if a kid is hungry – to be honest – do you think they really care about what’s going on in the school system?” asked Bentley. “They are starving – they are hungry. But the BackPack program helps these kids because it gives them something to look forward to, and I believe it helps them with their schoolwork also – because it helps them to know they are going to have those meals over the weekend.”

Adding to the stress of finding adequate meals, Bentley said most of the children he counsels are often carrying a significant workload at home that has nothing to do with school at all.

“Kids are faced with so many things these days. The socio-economic status of these kids, the culture of these particular kids, you are looking at kids living in poverty,”said Bentley. “They are 12, 11, sometimes even 9 years old – they don’t have a childhood because they have to take care of their siblings, wash them off to come to school, iron their uniforms, wash their clothes, even cooking for themselves. With the BackPack program, it really helps them in regards to the food. That’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

Bentley expressed his gratitude for the Food Bank and the program being available to these students in need, but more importantly he is truly grateful to the local community who donates funds to make sure the program can continue.

“I want to thank everyone who is donating to the BackPack program,” emphasized Bentley. “You’re saving the lives of these kids, in the sense kids are getting hope from the backpacks. Sometimes that backpack is their only sense of hope for having something to eat that day. They really look forward to those backpacks on Friday.”