NEWTON — When Isobel Costello began her freshman year at Newton High School, it was the first time she'd met many kids from three other municipalities that send kids to the school. What quickly became a frequent topic of discussion among them was how many students go home for the weekend without adequate food or basic hygiene products.

Dissatisfied with the answers she was getting from the high school's administration about what they were doing to help solve the problem, Costello took it upon herself to make sure her classmates could anonymously gain access to these crucial items.

Costello is now a junior, and her Weekend Bag Program is running in six schools in Sussex County. She fills more than five dozen bags every week with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack foods, keeping an eye on both her budget and the most nutritious options possible. And the program is poised to expand even further.

"I've had multiple schools come reach out to me that I'm going to be talking with over this summer, about getting them on the program, because there's a huge need in our community," Costello said.

She added that many children go home to their parents or guardians not being present all the time, and since some schools she serves are elementary level, these must be ready-to-eat or easily assembled foods.

When the program began within Newton High, Costello worked to involve different extracurricular clubs and teams. She and groups of student volunteers solicited donations outside local businesses, many of which have donated money themselves, and she has spoken at town council and Board of Education meetings in the area to drum up more support.

It's working. Costello is currently pulling in about $3,000 per month to fill her bags, and hopes to expand her budget even beyond that. And the contributions haven't all been monetary: She said a local farm recently donated fresh apples that she could include.

It is a matter of setting fellow students up to succeed when they return to school on Monday.

"You can't go to school the next morning and be able to enjoy school, or focus on your learning, and making your life better in the future, if you're starving and if you're hungry," Costello said.

To get involved, email theweekendbagprogram@yahoo.com.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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