Backpack Buddies

Backpack Buddies


  • 1 in 4 NYC families live in poverty
  • The Federal Poverty Level for a family of 4 is $24,300 annually
  • Children represent less than 25% of the NYC population but more than 33% of the residents living below the Federal Poverty Level
  • 1 in 4 NYC children struggle with hunger

What Is Backpack Buddies?

Children from families who live at or near the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for free breakfast and free or reduced lunch on school days.

But what happens on weekends?

Depending on their families’ resources, these children may not be able to adequately feed themselves, and sometimes parents skip meals so that their children can eat. Addressing the needs of the less fortunate in our community is part of tikkun olam, our mission to repair the world. For decades our congregation has collected funds through our Food Drive, and donated tons of food through City Harvest.

But childhood hunger is especially troubling. How can a child focus on schoolwork when they are hungry? How can a starving child fight the illnesses that run rampant in schools and housing
projects? How can they succeed?

A growing number of privately sponsored programs have stepped up by providing weekend meals to children in need. We at Rodeph Sholom, through the Social Action Committee, operate the Backpack Buddies program to address these concerns.

Backpack Buddies is a nationwide effort that serves children who are food insecure (i.e. they do not always have access to enough food for an active, healthy life). We began our chapter in September 2013, delivering 35 backpacks a week, and have since then more than doubled that number to 75.

On Fridays, we distribute backpacks full of non-perishable food to children at four locations in Manhattan: the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, the Frederick Samuel Community Center, The Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy, and PS 347 on the Lower East Side.

Why these four locations?

Each of our program partners focus on the multi-faceted needs of children. By providing weekend backpacks, we help feed these children and enable these programs to help children in their

What’s next?

One of our goals is to increase the number of children who receive weekend food by training other synagogues and churches to begin backpack programs. For example, in Savannah, GA, a program involving one temple serving 50 children has grown into 20 faith-based organizations serving more than 1,000 children weekly.

The sages taught, “Let your house be open wide; let the poor be members of your household” (Pirke Avot 1:5). Through the Backpack Buddies program, it is our hope to build strong communities unified by a shared vision of social justice.

What goes into each Backpack?

Each backpack provides a child with 6 nutritious meals for the weekend and contains:

  • 2 cans of protein
  • 2 cans of soup
  • 2 canned vegetables
  • 2 packets of fruit
  • 2 cans of pasta
  • 4 containers of milk
  • 2 boxes of cereal
  • 2 snacks

How You Can Help

Volunteer: We need four volunteers weekly to pack backpacks with food. This activity takes about 45 minutes and occurs on Friday mornings starting at 9:00 AM.  Please contact Janet Cohen and Gayle Meyer at to volunteer!


$15 to feed 1 child for 1 weekend
$60 to feed 1 child for 4 weekends
$600 to feed 1 child each weekend during the school year
$525 to feed 1 class for 1 weekend
$2,100 to feed 1 class for 4 weekends

To make a contribution, please click here and select Backpack Buddies from the drop-down menu.