Volunteers Celebrate Filling More Than 19,000 Backpacks
The Moore County school system honored more than 100 volunteers from community organizations and churches who celebrated at a "closing the last backpack" celebration June 4 at the Aberdeen Recreation Station.
Volunteers packed over 19,000 backpacks from September 2008 to June 2009. BackPack Pals volunteers have been on board for the entire school year volunteering at a school or at the Sandhills Food Bank every Thursday.
BackPack Pals, a program of Moore County Schools, was created to meet the needs of children known to have little or nothing to eat over a weekend. The program was implemented in one school for 25 students in September 2005.
Startup funds came from a grant from Bayer Crop Science, St. Joseph of the Pines and a large donation from a Moore County family trust fund.
Six schools were added in the spring of 2006 and five additional primary and elementary schools were added in the fall, bringing the total to 12 serving 300 children weekly. In 2007-2008, nine schools were added, bringing the total to 21. When school ended in June 2008, 400 children were enrolled in the program. At the end of the current year, 644 children were enrolled.
The program is designed to provide nutritious foods to children identified by school staff to have little or nothing to eat over the weekend. Children are recognized with input from teachers, teacher assistants, school nurses, counselors and social workers as candidates for the program.
Once the identification process is complete, letters are sent home to obtain permission from the parents/guardians for the child to participate. BackPacks are then issued to the student. The backpacks are free of logos, maintaining the dignity and anonymity of the participants.
Volunteer play an important role toward the success of BackPack Pals working at the Sandhills Food Bank and serving a school. Volunteers assigned to a school are responsible for picking up the backpacks and bringing them to the Sandhills Food Bank every Thursday, filling them and returning them to the school for distribution on Friday.
Prior to the volunteers arriving at the Food Bank, another crew of volunteers meets at the Food Bank and sets up the assembly line with products that will be used for that particular week.
About 18 organizations and churches are involved in serving a school every week. Some 40 churches donate 50 items a week, putting a sizable dent in the 6,000 items packed every week. About 36 volunteers split shifts at the Food Bank.
BackPack is supported by 55 churches, 46 organizations and hundreds of individuals. Two organizations have been very supportive of Backpack Pals, organizers said.
The Women of Seven Lakes have put on three golf tournaments to benefit Back Pack Pals. In three years, the group has made a gift of $20,100 to the program.
Dugan's Pub, under the leadership of owner, Alan Riley, has adopted the program in several ways. At Christmas, every child received a specially wrapped gift done by Riley and his staff. In April, Dugan's hosted a very successful golf tournament at Foxfire, netting more than $7,2000.
Throughout the year, Dugan's brings hundreds of dollars of donated food to the Sandhills Food Bank for the children. The pub also sponsored a karaoke promotion for BackPack Pals packs netting more than $2,000.
Anyone needing more information about the program or to volunteer can contact Linda Hubbard, volunteer coordinator for the Moore County school system, at 947-2342.
During the celebration, Hubbard, who administers BackPack Pals announced details of a summer program to help the children currently on the program.
Sites are being developed throughout the county where children can pick up a bag of food in the summer months.
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