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Mountain Lion program in need

It is estimated that one in four children in the Altoona area don’t know from where they’ll get their next meal. That is where the Mountain Lion Backpack Program steps in, handing out backpacks filled with food to students in need.

But, due to ongoing food shortages and supply chain disruptions, the program is having a difficult time getting needed items for the December distributions, said program director Amber Smith.

In an effort to fill the bags with food, the program will be holding a Giving Tuesday Food and Fund Donation Drive from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the program’s warehouse, 2900 Beale Ave., Altoona.

The most needed food items include canned pasta, canned soup, mac and cheese cups, fruit cups, pudding cups, cracker packs, instant oatmeal packs, instant mashed potatoes, canned vegetables, Rice Krispies Treats and cereal. Gift cards to local grocery stores are also welcome.

Smith said the goal is to raise as much money and collect as much food as possible.

For many students, the meals they receive at school are the only ones they may get, according to the program’s website.

Paula Foreman, district community relations director, said that despite some challenges with food shortages and supply disruptions, the district has been able to serve breakfast and lunch to students throughout the school year.

“We just make changes to the menu as needed,” she said.

It’s the weekends that are a problem for children in need, backpack organizers said.

To prevent students from the district’s eight elementary schools from going hungry over the weekend, the program provides them with a bag of food to take home every Friday during the school year. The bags include enough items for two breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, including drinks.

The aim is to make sure the children are fueled and ready to learn come Monday, Smith said.

According to the program’s website, the average cost to fill one backpack is $3, which is about $100 per student per year.

Since the program began in 2011, it has helped about 10,000 students, Smith said. Funded 100% by the community, the program helps an average of 1,000 elementary students each year, she added.

This will be its first Giving Tuesday fund and donation drive, although Smith hopes it will become an annual event.

“We are always looking for new and inventive ways to get the community involved in helping the program,” she said.

For more information, visit mountainlionbackpackprogram.org/

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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