Summer Snacks BackPack Pals Expands Food Program
Five years ago, BackPack Pals began by trying to answer the question of who feeds needy students on the weekends in Moore County.
Now that school is out, the nonprofit organization’s director, Linda Hubbard, and the Sandhills branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina plan to answer another question: “Who feeds them over the summer?”
Using the same method of distributing food to needy students discreetly via book bags, BackPack continues to reach recipients at sites where many are every day this summer — day camps geared toward children from low-income areas around Moore County.
Hubbard says the issue of feeding children served by the program over the summer has been a concern ever since the organization’s inception.
“Moore County is so rural, that in the summer, it’s hard to cover the entire county,” she said.
Every Friday during the school year, BackPack delivers food to schools, which distribute them to needy students in book bags for the weekend.
The students, identified for the program by teachers or guidance counselors, receive individually packaged snacks, such as small boxes of cereal, juice, crackers, pudding, applesauce and raisins.
Students receive food without the risk of potentially being ostracized by their peers.
The program first began by distributing food to 25 students at one school. At the end of the 2010-2011 year, 850 students were participating in the program, and BackPack had distributed a record 27,000 bags of food.
“Eight hundred and fifty children on the weekend is sad, but on the other hand, we know we’re able to take care of them,” Hubbard said at a recent year-end celebration for volunteers. “We are so fortunate to have this much generosity in this community. There’s no way in the world that we could take care of 850 children each week without this support.”
The year’s end offered a new beginning for both BackPack and Hubbard, who retired from Moore County Schools as the system’s volunteer coordinator.
‘Making a Difference’
With her retirement, the school system transferred oversight of BackPack to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which already implements a similar program in other parts of the state.
Hubbard plans to help BackPack get its footing at the food bank by working at the Sandhills branch.
She says the transfer has given BackPack the opportunity to support students year-round by reaching children at sites that partner with the food bank for its summer food service program, which has been providing breakfast and lunch to roughly 385 children in Moore County each day this summer.
Partner sites include the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sandhills, the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department and the Northern Moore Family Resource Center, along with sites in Lee, Richmond and Scotland counties.
Now, in addition to those meals Monday through Friday, children who would qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year can receive food to help them get through the weekends this summer.
Hubbard says the day camps were a logical place to start distributing food because they exist to help support the same population of students.
Michael Cotten, outreach coordinator for the Sandhills branch of the food bank, sees the extension of BackPack as an opportunity to continue supporting students and their families, as well as identifying new students to help.
“Through this existing program, we’re trying to provide an additional meal on the weekend [for children],” he said.
Representatives from the food bank’s primary facility in Raleigh anticipate working with Hubbard in the transition.
“You can see how many folks [Hubbard has] reached out to and how many she’s motivated,” said Emily Barbour, vice president of development. “She’s an amazing little power worker. We’re excited and thrilled to take on a project that’s so wonderfully established.”
Earline Middleton, vice president of agency services and programs, believes BackPack’s transition to the food bank’s oversight provides opportunity for the organization to expand its reach in the Sandhills region.
“It really is important, and it makes an impact on not only what kids do today, but also what they do tomorrow,” she said. “Linda has built a wonderful legacy. We are making a difference in [children’s] lives today.”
Hubbard is equally excited, and she continues to credit the various individuals, businesses and organizations that contribute to BackPack’s effectiveness.
“It’s a phenomenal thing the way that the community has embraced BackPack,” she said. “It’s been overwhelming. With the economy as bad as it has been, the donations have continued to come in.”
But so has the demand.
Though Moore County has weathered the recession better than its neighboring counties, Cotten says local residents, especially children, still face instability.
According to the food bank’s profile of Moore County for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, about 33.7 percent of children lived in poverty.
“You’ve still got pockets of our community that really struggle,” Cotten said. “People are really having some challenging times. We’re just trying to make it a little bit easier on children and their families. We know it doesn’t address all their needs, but we are trying to help as much as we can. It’s going to be an ongoing process.”
Though the program sees a great volunteer base throughout the school year, Hubbard, who is always looking to recruit more helping hands, especially needs help for the new summer distribution.
During the school year, volunteers gather at the Sandhills branch each Thursday morning to prepare bags of food and deliver them to schools across the county.
One volunteer, Vickie Bedder, sees her work with BackPack as an easy way to contribute to the community and feel good about it. As a grandparent, Bedder can also empathize with the children and families she helps serve.
“You wouldn’t ever want to see [your grandchildren] hungry,” she said. “You definitely don’t want to know that there are local children who aren’t getting enough to eat. [Volunteering with Back-Pack] is something simple enough, yet it’s important enough. It’s a neat thing.”
Raymond Thompson will admit that his wife made him start volunteering with her in the program, but he loves delivering food to Crain’s Creek Middle School each week during the school year.
“It’s a necessity for the community, and we enjoy it,” he said. “We’re at a stage in life where we have spare time, so why not?”
Thompson’s attitude is exactly what Hubbard and Cotten want to foster moving forward.
For Cotten, the addition of BackPack to the summer food service program is a small realization of the potential to meet all struggling families’ needs across Moore County.
He emphasizes that the need for community support continues to become more imperative as the food bank strives to expand its reach.
“We have to look at our resources,” he said. “Fundraising would have to address that growth. The work doesn’t stop. We have to keep on pushing.”
To learn more about Back-Pack Pals or the Sandhills Branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, call (910) 692-5959.
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