Weekend Hunger Backpack Program

The mission of the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program is to expand free and healthy food options to children experiencing food insecurity in our region so that they are able to attend school prepared and ready to learn.

We will accomplish this mission by:

  • Securing cost-effective solutions to providing weekend meals to students in need.
  • Providing a safe environment for students in need of nutritional support to access food.

What is the Weekend Food Backpack Program?

Weekend backpack food programs help provide nutritious, non-perishable, and easy-to-prepare food to elementary and middle school students to help them avoid hunger over the weekend from food insecurity when they cannot depend on school cafeteria meals.

This weekend food backpack program was held at a middle school in Alexandria, Virginia in 2016 where in-school site coordinators have helped distribute backpacks to support over 50 students on an ongoing basis.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

Through case management in our Community Schools, we are learning that too many of our middle school students lack access to an adequate amount of nutritious food to enable them to sustain a healthy life. United Way NCA’s Weekend Hunger Backpacks program provides meals to help those National Capital Area students get through the weekends and come to class on Monday ready to learn. The food backpack program launched at Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

Francis C. Hammond Middle School has an enrollment of 1,400 students with about 70% of those attending class eligible for free or reduced lunches. Hungry children are often unable to fully engage in daily activities such as schoolwork and social interaction with peers. Local case studies from our area have found that too often, low-income and poor students go home over the weekend to households with little or nothing to eat, only to return back to school on Monday hungry and unable to concentrate and unable to control impulses, leading to behavioral issues. The food backpack program helps provide relief to food insecurity by fighting hunger in schools.

Students facing food insecurity are twice as likely to be placed in special education and kept back a year in school. Additionally, the stress that is put on parents who are facing food insecurity has been proven to lead to grave behavioral and emotional issues that can impair mental health and make it difficult for students to adjust to social situations. Without adequate nutrition, children are easily distracted and unable to focus on learning in school.

Initiatives like the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program help students show up for school on Monday fed and ready to learn. Food backpacks filled with life-saving and healthy meal options prepare students for the school week just as pens and pencils do in the classroom.

We partner with ALexandrians InVolved Ecumenically (ALIVE) to collect and pack healthy weekend food backpacks for local children experiencing food insecurity.

Volunteer to pack weekend food backpacks – Volunteers help to prepare for food distributions. This includes setting up tables, unloading boxes of food from trucks and packing the weekend meals for students. For more information on getting involved or sponsoring the Weekend Food Back Program, please contact Stephanie Crane.


  • What is a Food Backpack Program?

    Our most at-risk students for food insecurity are also the ones who are most affected by the achievement gap, and below-average academic outcomes that can have lifelong effects. These students rely on their school cafeterias for the majority of their nutrition during the week. These supports do not exist over the weekend, so many Community Schools have adopted Weekend Backpack Programs. Weekend Backpack Programs send food home discreetly on Fridays to ensure students are well fed over the weekend and come back on Monday mornings ready to learn.

  • Is the UWNCA Weekend Hunger Backpack Program Currently Active?

    The United Way NCA Weekend Hunger Backpack Program is currently inactive due to school closures. The program was supplemented by United Way NCA through Fun, Fly, Fit grants to schools. Stay tuned!

  • What Types of Food Do Weekend Food Backpacks Supply?

    Weekend Backpacks contain nonperishable items like applesauce, fruit snacks, water, cheese and crackers, soup packs and cereals. They provide enough food for two meals per day for Saturday and Sunday, plus one to two snacks per day.

  • Can I Donate Food for Weekend Hunger Backpacks?

    Yes, volunteers can donate nonperishable food items or host a United Way NCA healthy snack kit-packing event. The best items for Weekend Food Backpacks include: fruit cups, cheese and crackers, pretzels, juice boxes, water, cereal cups, oatmeal packets, cookies, granola bars, packable tuna salad kits, soup cups, ramen noodle packets/pasta bowls, macaroni and cheese boxes, and instant mashed potatoes.