Operation Backpack

Because hunger doesn't take a break on the weekend...

Basic Facts:

  • 85% of children enrolled in St. Louis public schools rely on free or reduced-cost meal programs. For those children, weekends are filled with hunger and despair, as they often go home to houses with little or no food
  • Backpacks filled with nutritious, kid-friendly, easy-to-prepare foods are given to children on Friday before school dismissal. On Monday, students return the empty backpacks and the cycle continues
  • Operation Backpack was launched in the spring of 2008 to address the food insecurity experienced by thousands of children in St. Louis
  • During the 2013-14 school year, Operation Backpack will work with nine school districts across the metro area to supply 3,500 low-income children with backpacks each weekend. Over 100,000 backpacks will be provided to these children before the end of the school year
Photo of Operation Backpack Kids


How You Can Help the Operation Backpack Program

If your organization does not have the capacity to sponsor a school, or if you would like to volunteer as an individual, there are other ways you can help. We rely on faithful volunteers to pack and deliver the approximately 3,000 backpacks per week.

  • Pack Backpacks. Each week, groups of volunteers generously donate their time to backpacks. Using an assembly line of volunteers, we pack around 1,500 bags during a 2-3 hour session. Volunteers will be on their feet for entire duration, and may be required to lift cases of can goods or other heavy food items. This opportunity is appropriate for anyone over the age of 16. Typically, children are not allowed to pack backpacks due to heavy lifting and the use of box cutters to open bulk food items.
  • Volunteer as an individual. We always welcome additional hands to join other volunteers at the regularly scheduled weekly packing sessions.  Currently, our packing sessions occur Tuesdays from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm and Wednesday from 9:30 am to 11:30 am.
  • Volunteer as a group. A successful packing session will have 10-20 volunteers who will dedicate at least 2 hours to the project. We will try to accommodate your schedule, but please keep in mind that weekend and evening opportunities are rare.
  • Deliver Backpacks. Many of our participating schools find it difficult to pick up their weekly supply of backpacks from our warehouse. The support of volunteers to take backpacks to schools is often the crucial link that makes or breaks participation in the program. Delivery is needed Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Drive our vehicle – Experienced drivers can volunteer to deliver backpack using our cargo van. Drivers willing to dedicate time each week may be assigned a specific route, or those wanting to volunteer infrequently may deliver backpacks as their schedule allows. This position requires a valid CDL license.
  • Use your own vehicle – Due to our limited number of vehicles, we also welcome individuals and organizations who are willing to donate both time and their vehicle to make deliveries. Please contact us to learn about specific schools that need help with delivery.
  • Assist a School. In this position, volunteers will work with school coordinators, helping them to pass out the backpacks to students. We will be happy to match you to a school that has expressed a need for assistance.
  • Adopt a school. This opportunity is ideal for community organizations or groups. Organizations will adopt a school location and will take responsibility for packing and distributing backpacks to the adopted location. We can pair you with a school in need or you can select a desired location.
  • Set the Stage. Before the backpack process can begin, we must set up the thousands of food items that will be packed into the bags. Volunteers are needed to unwrap and stack canned food items, as well as open bulk items and place them into larger bins for accessibility. This process usually takes about 2 hours for an individual, but groups are also welcome.
  • Donate. Monetary donations are essential to the continuation of this program. To ensure quality and nutrition standards, the majority of food items for the program are purchased. If you would like to donate food items, please refer to the list of Most Wanted Food Items.

Enrolling in Operation Backpack

To enroll a school into the Operation Backpack program, please complete the interest form below. Your school will be placed on our waiting list until we have an opening or the ability to add additional schools. You will be contacted when you are selected to participate.

Operation Backpack - School Participation Inquiry

* School Name
* School District
* School Address
* School City
* School State
* School Zip Code
* Percentage of Students on Free or Reduced Lunch
* Estimated Number of Students to Participate in Operation Backpack
* Contact Name
* Contact Phone Number
* Contact Email Address
* Do you have the ability to pick-up the backpacks from our warehouse on weekly basis?
* Do you have the ability to store backpacks and their contents in a secure location?
* Captcha: Please type the letters as they appear in the box below.
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