By MICHELLE BROOKS
JEFFERSON CITY - For many children, breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday at public schools may be the only relaible meals they get.
The Central Missouri Food Bank offers a Buddy Pack Program, which provides at-risk children with food to eat over the weekend or when school is out.
Several religious traditions have joined together to support that effort and are seeking broad community participation.
The Fast for Food Challenge, hosted by the Vipassana Buddhist Church/Center for Buddhist Development, will ask participants to fast from lunch Friday to lunch Sunday.
A kick off will be held at 7 p.m. March 22 at the Buddhist Center, 203 E. Dunklin St., Jefferson City, and a potluck lunch March 24 will break the fast.
At that time, participants will be asked to make a donation to the Central Missouri Food Bank's Buddy Pack Program, which provides at-risk children with food to eat over the weekend when school is out.
"After having gone without food for two days, we ask that you make out a check to the Food Bank in relation to your own personal experience," said the Rev. Monty Dhammaruchi. "Making a donation in this way makes the experience personal, not theoretical."
In Moniteau County, 46 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-priced meals. And nearly 150 children are served by the Buddy Packs in California, Tipton, Clarksburg and Latham elementary schools.
The Central Missouri Food Bank's Buddy Pack program has grown from five schools in three counties to 6,700 students in 28 counties.
To provide the best mix of nutritious products, the food bank purchases items wholesale rather than relying on irregular food donations.
For many students who qualify for free and reduced-cost meals at school, breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday may be the only reliable source of food they have.
In recent years, the Buddy Pack program has faced several challenges, including manufacturers reduced food donations, higher fuel prices and food expenses that have increased up to 30 percent and 40 percent for peanut butter.
A student can be provided with this extra bit of nutrition for an entire school year at the cost of $15 per month or $180 per year.
In Cole County, 44 percent of school children qualify for free and reduce-priced meals.
The Buddy Pack program serves nearly 900 children at Belair, Callaway Hills, Cedar Hill, East, Lawson, Moreau Heights, North, Pioneer Trail, South, Thorpe Gordon and West Elementary Schools, Lewis and Clark Middle School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Southwest Early Childhood Center and Cole County R-I Elementary School in Russellville.
In Osage County, 35 percent qualify and more than 200 receive packs at Linn, Fatima and Osage County R-1 elementary schools.
In Callaway County, 47 percent qualify and nearly 300 receive backpacks at Bartley, Bush, South Callaway R-II and McIntire elementary schools.
In Maries County, 51 percent of students qualify and more than 110 are served by Buddy Packs at Vienna and Belle elementary schools.
In Miller County, 55 percent of students qualify and more than 370 receive Buddy Packs at Eldon South, Eldon Upper, Leland O. Mills, School of the Osage and Iberia elementary schools.
In Morgan County, 66 percent of students qualify and nearly 250 receive packs at Morgan R-I and Morgan R-II schools.
Call 691-0072 for more information about the Fast for Food.
On the web: www.sharefoodbringhope.org/adoptabuddy