Volunteers gathered Sept. 2 to pack about 80 meals that will be given to students at two Rockland schools.

In eight of the 10 schools in Regional School Unit 13, half of the students oftentimes miss meals because there is no food, according to information from Area Interfaith Outreach.

At South Elementary School, about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, but because enough families in the school community receive some sort of federal assistance, the entire school population qualifies for free meals, according to Regional School Unit 13 Food Service Director Charles Butler. Sixty-five percent of students at Rockland District Middle School are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The eligibility is based on income.

These children are receiving breakfast and lunch during the school week, but there was growing concern during the last school year when children were showing up to school hungry on Mondays, according to AIO.

To combat the problem, AIO has launched a  weekend backpack program at the two schools. Each week, volunteers will assemble at Nativity Lutheran Church on Old County Road in Rockport, as they did Sept. 2 to package the meals. The meals will then be delivered to the schools on Fridays and placed in the children's backpacks to bring home.

AIO President Sherry Cobb said at the end of the last school year, 299 students qualified for the program, but AIO, with the help of Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, can only provide up to 200 meals.

Cobb said Sept. 2 that in the first week of the program, 56 families have signed up, but she expects that figure to grow after families continue to fill out the "opt-in" paperwork at the schools.

The volunteers packed extra meals so teachers can discuss the program and offer the meals to families during open houses at the two schools. There also has been talk of opening a food pantry for students at Oceanside High School East, Cobb said.

"We needed $45,000 to pay for weekend food for 200 children for the school year, a huge amount, but it happened. Big checks, little checks, checks to buy a whole or partial backpack, quarters and dollar bills in store counter milk jugs…. It was adding up and then two generous donors together offered to match gifts up to $25,000," Cobb stated in a news release from AIO.

AIO has taken in more money than their goal, which means they will be able to serve more children sooner by adding more children at the two flagship schools, take on another school, or both, she stated in the release.

For more information on the weekend backpack program, go to knoxadoptabackpack.org.