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Images of hungry children stick with social worker

Gina Harrison will never forget some of the images of childhood hunger she has seen in 16 years as a school social worker.

Like the two young brothers stealing snacks from a cafeteria. When she reached the boys’ father, Harrison learned he was a single parent working hard to provide enough for the family.

“They only had rice, literally, in their cabinets at home,” Harrison said. “We would have never known they were hungry if they hadn’t stolen.”

Then there was the boy whose mom called Harrison to see whether her son was still getting a backpack of food each Friday from the Harvesters food bank. Harrison assured her that he was.

The mom soon found her son had been stockpiling the food in his bedroom. Because she was working a late shift, and he was home with older siblings, he was afraid his siblings would take the food and he wouldn’t have enough to eat.

“He was hoarding it underneath his bed,” Harrison said. “He was hoarding it and eating it in his closet. If people don’t believe kids don’t have enough food, they should come to work with me.”

Harrison now works at Kellybrook Elementary School in the Liberty district. Only about 15 percent of the school’s students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Because a relatively small number of children get the BackSnacks, Kellybrook doesn’t use backpacks the way other schools do. Instead, teachers tuck packets of food into the students’ regular backpacks while they are at recess or in another classroom.

“It’s very confidential,” Harrison said. “We want to make sure they’re not pointed out in any way that they’re different.”

Fifty of the Kellybrook students receive Harvesters BackSnacks every Friday. Ten more probably could use them.

Harrison hears parents say, “We’re behind on this bill and this bill, and by getting BackSnack, that’s one less thing we have to worry about.”

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