An unfortunate fact of life here in our Florida Keys paradise is that not everyone is living a “life of paradise”. Many families who once made a decent living in our fishing, tourism, service, and construction industries are hurting today due to our national and local economic recession. Some families we know work as many as three jobs just to make ends meet. While these circumstances make the Center’s role even more important (children learn at the Center as their parents work), sometimes we see children who are so affected by our poor economy that they are clearly experiencing hunger.
Since nutrition affects a child's cognitive, social, and emotional development, children who do not get the nutritious food their bodies need are more likely to have problems learning, growing, and interacting.
For our most chronically hungry children, the Grace Jones Community Center operates a Back Pack Program providing bags that are full of nutritional, child-friendly foods for home consumption over weekends. Each Friday and before holidays, our Backpack 4 Kids program provides 50 of our poorest children in the Middle Keys with 8-10 pounds of nutritious, kid-friendly foods to hold them over between the free meals they receive weekdays at school. We are able to run our food program with federal funding focused on early childhood nutrition.
There is an absolute cause-and-effect between the food provided through the Grace Jones Back Pack Program and the nutritional and emotional health of the children who are fortunate to receive it. We sincerely believe that every child who is enrolled in our Back Pack Program no longer faces chronic hunger. The amount of food we provide each Friday, coupled with free school meals, and hopefully matched by some food at home, means it is not so long between meals for these children.