Backpack Pals Program Continues Rapid Growth
Every Thursday at noon, volunteers feverishly stuff hundreds of backpacks full of food at the Sandhills Food Bank.
Canned foods, Ramen noodles, cereal, apple sauce, pudding, raisins, crackers, juices, you name it. Like an assembly line at an automobile factory, they systematically fill the numbered backpacks with some 6,000 food items every week. It's so efficient, the process is completed by 2 o'clock.
They are volunteers for Backpack Pals, a program of the Moore County school system that is designed to provide nutritious foods to children identified by school staff who have little or nothing to eat over the weekend.
"Yeah, it's huge," said Linda Hubbard, volunteer coordinator for the school system. "It is by far the nicest program that I've been involved with. There's no selling involved" (to persuade the public to participate).
Backpack Pals started with one school in December 2005. Eleven schools were added in 2006 and six in 2007 for a total of 18 primary, elementary, and middle schools. The program has since taken on a life of its own, and Hubbard said she would like to continue to grow the program.
The backpacks are purchased by the program and are individually numbered. Children who get them receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.
Each school handles the program differently, but the goal is to distribute the backpacks as discreetly as possible.
The volunteers on hand praise the program.
"Man, it's just an awesome opportunity to give back to the community," Adam Love said.
Love is heavily involved with Sandhills Teen Challenge, a faith-based alcohol and drug addiction recovery program for men ages 18 and older. Hubbard credited the organization for playing a "big role" in Backpack Pals operation.
Al Warren, Ed Lancaster, Jack Baker and Duncan McDonald were there representing First Baptist Church of Southern Pines, which is responsible for 57 children. Warren credited Backpack Pals for being a well-organized program.
"This operation here is perfectly run, and, of course, we love helping people," he said.
First Baptist is one of many churches and organizations that help out with the program. Different groups are assigned to different schools to facilitate the program.
Children are identified with input from teachers, teacher assistants, school nurses, counselors and social workers as candidates for the program. Once the identification process is completed, letters are sent home to obtain permission from the parents or guardians for the child to participate. Backpacks are then issued to the student, free of logos, maintaining the dignity and anonymity of the participants.
Plans to expand the program include requesting financial aid from area civic clubs and individuals and product donations from area churches and organizations. Churches are responsible for donating a specific item or two during the school year to be used to feed children who attend schools in the district of the church.
Volunteers, recruited from churches, civic clubs and organizations, are assigned to a school and are responsible for picking up the backpacks and bringing them to the Sandhills Food Bank, stuffing them and returning them to the school for distribution on Friday. Before the volunteers arrive at the Food Bank, another crew meets and sets up the assembly line with products that will be used.
Backpack Pals is always looking for new volunteers and donors. Those wishing to get involved can donate food products to the program, or they can sponsor an individual child for $30 a month or an entire school, to start 25 new students on the program, for $250.
Those seeking more details may, contact Hubbard at 947-2342.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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