Nonprofit has the backs of homeless children, families

Nonprofit has the backs of  homeless children, families
Lendy Morales and her son Victor Morales, both of Vista, take home a backpack full of food from the We’ve Got Your Back nonprofit organization that provides food to homeless school children. Photo by Promise Yee

COAST CITIES — We’ve Got Your Back is a nonprofit that provides food to homeless school children in North County. The organization has been operating for a year and is currently serving 75 children in Vista and Oceanside schools.

Co-founder Jack Little said that he felt compelled to do something to help when he found out his son’s classmate was homeless and did not have sufficient food to eat.

“You would not recognize these kids when you see them,” Little said. “You’d be surprised.”

Currently We’ve Got Your Back works with the Vista and Oceanside school districts. Families in need are identified by the school districts and asked by the districts’ community liaisons if they would like to participate in the food program. The liaisons help dispel the negative stigma usually associated with assistance programs.

“If you’re hungry it’s hard to concentrate in school,” Little said. “These kids don’t have a choice.”

Samantha Betanzos and Olga Perez, both staff of North County Lifeline, ready backpacks for families to pickup. Photo by Promise Yee

Weekend food is provided for children who usually receive free meals at school. Sufficient food is supplied to feed children and their families.

Once families are hooked up with the program children and their parents pick up a backpack full of food each Thursday. Included are a variety of nutritional nonperishable food items. Occasionally fresh fruit is included.

Food items are grouped into logical balanced meals and packed into backpacks at the nonprofit’s Oceanside warehouse. All food is donated or purchased by the organization at a steep discount.

“We don’t put sugary things in the backpacks,” Little said. “We include vegetables, fruit, granola bars, juice, tuna, fortified macaroni.”

Nutrition homework is included for students to complete. Age-appropriate mini lessons teach children how to choose nutritional meals and snacks.

North County Lifeline works with Vista Unified School District and We’ve Got Your Back to be the food pickup center for Olive Elementary School students and their families. The food program assists 20 families at the school.

North County Lifeline also has programs to help adults gain employment and be able to support their families.

Vista Unified School District has just more than 22,000 students. Close to 2,000 students are classified as homeless.

“The number of children in Vista Unified School District who are homeless is astronomical,” Samantha Betanzos, income support specialist for North County Lifeline, said.

Students are considered homeless if they live in a car or campground, or if their family shares a home with another family due to economic hardship.

“In transition people need help,” Betanzos said. “Children can’t do it by themselves.”

We’ve Got Your Back is funded through grants, fundraisers and donations.

“An individual can take on a child for $240 a year,” Little said.

Little said he and fellow volunteers are working to grow the nonprofit and provide assistance to more children in North County.

“Our long-term goal is to develop a model that is reproducible and give it away to other cities and states,” Little said.

For more information on We’ve Got Your Back, go to gotyourbacksd.org.

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