An Evalulation of the Backpack Program in East Central Illinois


Millions of school children in the United States are in households experiencing food insecurity (i.e., households without access to enough food to maintain a healthy, active life). In response, the U.S. government has funded large-scale food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Despite these efforts, a gap still exists between need and available services. The Backpack Program was designed to meet the needs of hungry children at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations. Food banks partner with local schools, who help identify children at-risk for hunger. Those children are then provided with child-friendly, easy-to-prepare meals which are discreetly distributed to them on Friday afternoons. While programs like the Backpack Program represent an important component of the nation's efforts to alleviate food insecurity, little is known about the potential impact of the program on children's hunger relief and associated factors such as school performance and family climate. This project answered these three key questions: (1) What is the impact of the Backpack Program on household levels of food insecurity? (2) Does participation in the program increase school attendance on days of distribution? (3) What is the impact of the program on family mealtimes?

Downloadable Overview

An Evaluation of the Backpack Program Overview PDF

Research Team

  • Barbara Fiese, PhD, Family Resiliency Center Director, Human Development and Family Studies
  • Craig Gundersen, PhD, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Brenda Koester, MS, Assistant Director, Family Resiliency Center, Human Development and Family Studies
  • LaTesha Washington, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Andrea Rundell, Eastern Illinois Foodbank
  • Stephanie Sloane, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Pei Pei Setoh, Graduate Research Assistant


  • Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program
  • USDA Hatch Act Funds
  • This research was funded in part by a grant from Feeding America and Morgan Stanley


Brenda Koester
Assistant Director
Family Resiliency Center
Phone: 217-244-6486