Dean Downs concentrates as he separates vegetables into two piles. One pile has corn, while the other has green beans.

Dean Downs concentrates as he separates vegetables into two piles. One pile has corn, while the other has green beans.

Down the line, other students pack granola bars, macaroni and cheese and drink boxes into bags that will later be placed into backpacks for Harvesters’ BackSnack program.

“It makes me feel good knowing I am helping someone who doesn’t have enough food to eat,” said the fifth grader at Spring Branch Elementary. “It is good to help other people.”

The entire fifth grade from Spring Branch spent some time earlier this week volunteering at Harvesters in Kansas City. The BackSnack program provides backpacks of food to low-income children for the weekend. Harvesters provides the food, and a partnering organization provides the backpacks and volunteers who pick up the packs, clean them and pack them with food. Participating schools then distribute the backpacks on Friday.

“We have thousands of volunteers who come in each month,” said Amy Randolph, communications manager for Harvesters. “It is amazing to see children who are engaged in volunteering. They are getting to see through first hand experience who they are helping.”

The 55 students from the Independence elementary school sorted food items and created packages for each of the backpacks. Enough food is provided to give children meal and snack options throughout the weekend.

“I think anything that allows kids to participate in community service is exciting,” said Janet Richards, principal of Spring Branch. “They see beyond the school walls and realize the world is much, much bigger.”

BackSnack began in 2004 as a pilot program serving 30 students at one school. During the 2009-10 school year, more than 10,000 students were served throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, including some at Spring Branch.

The volunteer activity at Harvesters follows a food drive organized by the Spring Branch fifth graders. The school collected more than 400 pounds of nonperishable food items to be donated to Harvesters.

“After I worked here this summer, I thought this would be a perfect project for this group of kids,” said Jennifer Halverson, a student teacher at Spring Branch who came up with the idea for the food drive. “This is a caring group of children who really look out for other people. I knew it was something they would get into, and it was.”

Student Taylor Dial said she liked helping at Harvesters and thought it was a good way to get children her age involved in the community.

“This is a really neat experience,” she said. “I think something likes this helps us understand that many people are in need. We are very lucky because we have food. Some people don’t have food, which is why we should help them.”