Imperial Valley Food Bank Weekend Backpack Program

December 16, 2022

Sara Griffen is the Executive Director of the Imperial Valley Food Bank in Imperial, California. As she explained, the IVFB is like other food banks, but also not like other food banks.

The IVFB makes it clear: One in three students are food insecure.

“Being a rural food bank in a large area brings unique challenges,” Griffen said, “and we’re proud of the impact we make.”

The IVFB has an outsized mission: Support a population of 180,000 people over 4,000 square miles with food distribution to pantries, communities, and specialized programs like the Weekend Backpack Program.

What are Food Banks?

Food Banks mostly operate the same around the nation, and from that stance, the IVFB is similar to others. 

“A Food Bank is like a food warehouse,” Griffen says, “so we take in food from everywhere, donations, our partners, etc.”

Once the food is collected and sorted, food banks distribute food to food pantries, which are the places people and families go to get the food they need for healthy living. 

“We deliver to pantries at the SDSU extension campus, Imperial Valley Community College, and other partners,” Griffen said. “Being rural, we also do food distribution ourselves. Right now the food we supply is about 50% distributed through partner agencies, and 50% goes out on our refrigerated trucks for delivery to communities without refrigerated food distribution of their own.”

The Weekend Backpack Program

Sitting at 16%, Imperial Valley has the highest unemployment rate in California. This has an effect on people’s food security and can cause problems for students in school.

“One in three kids in Imperial Valley are food insecure,” Griffen said, “and we knew we had to act. When kids are hungry, they can’t do well in school, and it can create long-lasting health problems. We don’t want any child to be hungry, so we created the Weekend Backpack Program.”

At the beginning of the school year, a student in the program receives a backpack filled with food to take home with them. Every Friday, they get their backpack refilled to bring home food.

“We cannot thank our partners enough for helping make this happen,” Griffen said. “When Pattern Energy came here, they committed to donating $10,000/year for 20 years and sponsored the Weekend Backpack Program. Eleven years in, and things are going great!”

One of Pattern Energy’s core values is supporting the communities with whom we work, and we’re proud to support the Imperial Valley Food Bank and the Weekend Backpack Program.

Teachers Know the Value

There are a lot of backpacks to fill each week, and Griffen said this is another example of the community realizing a need and stepping up.

“We have a group of retired teachers that come every Wednesday to refill backpacks because they know the power of the program. Teachers who spent their careers in education know how important it is for kids to be healthy, safe, and fed. We are very lucky to have their support, and they are happy to have another way to support children in the community.”

The Future 

The mission of the Imperial Valley Food Bank is to ensure all residents of Imperial Valley have access to nutritionally valuable food, and while there are always challenges, Griffen is optimistic about the future.

“We have a great team working here, and we’re proud of what we do. We’re always looking for ways to be more effective, and with the support of our community, we’re confident we’ll be helping people in our community long into the future.”