It's a sad reality, but one in four Oklahoma children is at risk for hunger every day. Unfortunately, for many children, hunger isn't just an occasional missed meal; it is a way of life.
However, through the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma's Backpack Program, children like Miguel Manuel-Partida are fighting childhood hunger. Manuel-Partida is a first grader at Lee Elementary School in Oklahoma City. He's doing well now, but there was a time when he worried about more than completing the worksheet in front of him.
"They always will ask, 'What time is lunch? When is it time for lunch?'" said first-grade teacher Mandy Johnson. "They can't sit down and focus and do the work I want them to do, because their brain is all they can think about is being hungry."
Manuel-Partida isn't alone; thousands of Oklahoma children are chronically hungry.
"It's astonishing, it's shocking and it's regrettable," said Rodney Bivens, the executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. "We never envisioned that there would be 18,500 children that had little or nothing to eat over the weekend."
Bivens said that's why the Backpack Program was created 14 years ago.
"A child may have school lunch at 11:00 or 11:30 on a Friday and have nothing or very little to eat over the weekend," Bivens said.
The Backpack Program currently serves 18,500 children in 500 elementary schools in Oklahoma. Those on the program take a backpack full of food home each Friday to get them through the weekend.
"We get three, and we can share everything that's inside there," said Elizabeth Partida, Miguel's mother, whose three children are all on the program. "They were not doing bad, but after they got them, the backpacks, they seemed more happy to me."
To Johnson, the change in Miguel is significant.
"When he comes to school on Monday morning, he's ready, he's alert, he has more energy, just ready to work and learn," Johnson said.
For every $200, one child can receive a backpack each week during the entire school year.