Iowa family packs, donates weekend meals for hungry kids

One Iowa family is helping hungry kids make it through the weekend with packed meals they can pick up on Friday at school.

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An Iowa family is providing food for students on Fridays to ensure they have something to eat over the weekend.

Josh and J.J. Caston started Homeplate Iowa, a nonprofit, three years ago to feed students at Corse Elementary School in Burlington, Iowa, giving food-filled bags to 40 children a month to take home, The Hawk Eye reported. The program now has grown to four other local elementary schools - North Hill, Sunnyside, Grimes and West Burlington - feeding 272 kids twice a month.

Students receive six meals and two snacks in a buddy bag, which are about 6 pounds and just light enough for the kids to carry. Each costs about $3 to stock. The Castons take donations and look for specials at local grocery stores to fill them.

"It's raviolis, pastas, oatmeal, granola bars, stuff they can eat and fix on their own most of the time," J.J. Caston said. "Or they can combine it and make a family meal."

The Castons find students in need of food for the weekend with the help of school counselors. School officials noticed students didn't return to school Monday morning ready to learn, because they didn't have a meal over the weekend, Josh Caston said.

"There was more disciplinary issues at school on Monday, and the kids weren't focusing," he said. "You find that a lot of the kids haven't ate anything substantial over the weekend because there wasn't food in their house."

West Burlington Elementary counselor Tamara Levinson said students look forward to the bags and are eager to take them home.

"We try to do it discreetly for privacy, but the kids are excited about the buddy bags," Levinson said.

If there's a long break coming, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, the bags are packed with more food, Caston said.

Last year, Homeplate Iowa provided students with winter coats through the help of school counselors.

"Guidance counselors will call and say they have a child who showed up who doesn't have a coat, can you help," Caston said. "And last year, we did close to 300 coats."

The Castons have an 11-year-old daughter who attends West Burlington and have unsuccessfully tried to adopt a child. They say they take it as a sign they're supposed to have one child and feed many more.

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