Blessings In A Backpack

Program provides a backpack full of food to hungry school-kids for the weekend.
On Friday afternoon, fifth grader John Gonzalez takes home more than homework.

When John and his little sister meet up with their mom outside Normandy Elementary School for the quick walk home, they both carry an extra backpack - what's inside will help sustain them through the weekend.

"You guys have a menu, see - there is mashed potatoes, cheese ravioli..." their mother, Anita Velasquez, told CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.

The food, store coupons and menu are all provided free to the struggling family as part of the Blessings in a Backpack program. For Mom, it's just that - a blessing.

"You want your kids to eat healthy every day; some days you have to scrap up what you can," she said.

In the heart of South Central Los Angeles, the school is often the only place poor kids ever eat a good meal. At this school every student qualifies for free lunch and breakfast.

School psychologist Cynthia Brockman-Coleman says now that the kids are eating well over the weekends, Mondays are completely different.

"Being hungry and anxious about food and worried about food that is something they don't have to worry about that," Brockman-Coleman said.

Test scores have gone up 33 points, and attendance has increased too. But more importantly... "We see parents getting more involved in the school," says teacher Spencer Schumacher.

The backpacks started going home when teachers saw that so many kids came to school hungry on Monday. But unlike school meals paid for by the government, the bill for the backpacks goes to just one person - the former Disney star Hilary Duff.

"Putting her stamp of approval to education really motivated the kids," Schumacher says.

At Normandy Elementary there is no embarrassment about who gets the backpacks because everyone does, all 1,000 students. And a fifth-grade class assembles them, too.

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The program has gone nationwide with seven other schools and 20 about ready to launch. All schools are seeing positive results - most an increase in test scores and less tardiness.

"On an empty stomach, you can't learn anything," one student says.

Back at Normandy one lesson that's sticking: Nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand.