Though some might question whether a school needs to concern itself with what their students eat over the weekend, Freddie Villalone, principal of a Phoenix Imagine Schools charter, says he believes "food insecurity" was holding many of his students back.
"If their bellies aren't filled, they're not going to be able to focus on their academics. They won't be able to do the homework we assign over the weekend because they're worried about finding food," he says.
At his school, 97 percent of students receive free or reduced-cost lunches. For several years, Villalone's charter school wasn't doing so well: It was in the bottom 5 percent of Arizona schools in terms of academic performance, and was told it had to improve students' grades quickly or face getting shut down. That's when it partnered with Kitchen on the Street.
Now, 150 of the school's 700 kids receive weekend "bags of hope." Since Kitchen on the Street came to the school, the school's academic rating went from an F to a B -- a turnaround that Villalone credits in large part to the food that Kitchen on the Street supplied to his students most need.
It's not only about feeding kids, he says, it's about "building a level of confidence. Their confidence levels go down if they're hungry and unable to concentrate come Monday. When they know they'll have enough to eat over the weekend, they come ready to learn. Our kids have made tremendous academic gains," he says.