EFELT Continues to Fight Child Hunger with its Backpack Program
Written by Jeff Mitchell, PER
Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies Inc. (EFELT) is a 501c3 incorporated business sponsored by Bradenton Elks Lodge #1511. In 2012 they were joined by Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge #2855. The program started in August 2010, and by January 2011, they began providing meals, snacks, drinks, bread and other nonperishable foods to elementary school children who are homeless and/or living in food-deprived households. This is accomplished through a backpack program in cooperation with the Manatee County School System and the teachers. The food they provide is nonperishable and consists of six complete meals of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, snacks, drinks and a loaf of bread. Some of these children reside in the back of cars, in group homes or motels. Many of these children are in Title One schools, hence breakfast and lunch is provided at the school they attend. Unfortunately, over the weekend these children typically go without food, and going to school hungry Monday makes it hard to focus. These children are missing essential nutrition which can stunt their physical development, affect grades and cause behavioral problems such as anxiety and anger.
All monies obtained through the Elks National Foundation, other grants, philanthropy, benefits and donations go to purchasing food, as EFELT has no administrative expense; all costs such as manpower, mileage, gasoline and paper are voluntary, donated and given in-kind. Their goal is not only to provide for as many children as they can afford through grants and donations of money and/or food but also to raise awareness in their community of the needs of these homeless children and to raise awareness of the Elks.
The school board identifies the children in need and EFELT provides six full meals of nonperishable food through a discreet process where the child’s name and whereabouts is not revealed. Food and snacks are processed by more than 120 volunteers at two sites in Manatee County, Fla., placed in backpacks and delivered to the schools on Fridays for distribution.
On Jan. 6, 2011, they started by providing food to 60 children in two elementary schools, and by January 2017 they have expanded to 850 children in 13 schools. Since the program’s beginning, they have provided 113,576 children between the ages of 5 and 12 with 681,456 meals containing 1,303,060 items which equate to 227 tons of food. Since Jan. 6, 2011, their 125 volunteers including the EFELT Board of Directors have spent 38,337 hours and have driven 144,774 miles (including delivery of the backpacks). That is $1,143,592.71 in-kind wage and $84,014.90 in-kind mileage at IRS allowable.
They are aware of 65 lodges in 20 states that are emulating the EFELT project or participating with other community backpack projects. The Elks have also assisted five lodges in five different states start a similar program. The program has brought in 48 new members in both lodges.
The problem of poverty is pervasive and can be overwhelming. Around the world, more than one billion people are malnourished. An estimated 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day and every day children are dying just because they don’t have enough food to eat. One out of every five children in the United States lives at or below the poverty level and the USDA estimates that 17.8% of all children in Florida are food-deprived. That's a tragedy that should not occur. Unfortunately, the children suffer the most. No child should suffer from hunger, especially when Elks can do something about it!
To learn more about this important work, please visit efelt.org.