By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
NOVEMBER 19 – Volunteers are making sure that students don’t go hungry on weekends by providing packaged meals for them to take home every Friday.
When asked why she helped establish the program at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that helps students at South Fork Elementary, Anne Butler said, “I have seen too many hungry kids.”
Through the BackPack program, a national Feeding America program administered locally by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, 18 partner organizations – all churches at the moment - have committed to providing four weekend meals for at least 50 children at 18 schools. Altogether, about 1,000 students in Forsyth County receive weekend meals through the program.
“It’s meeting a basic need,” said Daisy Rodriguez, Second Harvest’s Direct of Childhood Hunger Programs. “The food is fuel. They need that to be able to learn.”
At St. Paul’s, Butler and three other women – Mary Jo Walker, Kay Morgan, Linda Hill – organized the program after learning about a similar program in a national magazine. “We said, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’” Butler said.
When they contacted Second Harvest in the spring of 2011, they learned that if they wanted to commit to feeding 50 children for a school year, they would need to find $10,000 – the cost of providing four meals per weekend for 50 students for 40 weekends.
“I said, ‘I will do that,’” Butler said.
The meals, which the partner organizations buy through the food bank for $5 per four-meal pack, are made up of packaged foods that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as cereal, self-stable milk, juice boxes and beef stew. On Friday mornings, volunteers put the meals into backpacks - or, at some partner organizations, plastic grocery bags - and volunteers deliver them to the schools, where teachers give them to students before they go home. If the program does use backpacks, students bring them back to school and someone from the partner organization picks them up.
At St. Paul’s, an anonymous donor provided an additional $10,000, enabling the church to commit to helping 100 students. It is one of two partner organizations – the other is Sedge Garden United Methodist Church, which works with Hall-Woodward Elementary – that help 100 students each week. St. Paul’s chose to help students at South Fork, in part because it had already established a relationship with the school through an outreach ministry called the Augustine Project for Literacy.
United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church provides meals for students at Petree Elementary. It, too, already had a relationship with its partner school. The church isn’t far from Petree, said Deborah Miller, who coordinates the church’s BackPack program, and members think of it as the community school. The church was already doing such things as helping to support its PTA. Miller also volunteers at the school.
“This seemed to be an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the students,” said the church’s pastor, Rev. Prince Raney Rivers.
At United Metropolitan, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust provided a $10,000 grant to cover the 2011-12 school year. The church has committed to continuing the program and, for 2012-13, has added another 20 students for a total of 70.
“We wish we could do more,” said Miller, echoing the thoughts of a number of people working with the Backpack programs. At many schools, far more than 50 children would be eligible for the BackPack program.
In August, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that the greater Winston-Salem area - which includes Davie, Forsyth, Stokes and Yadkin counties - was ranked the worst metro area in the United States in having families with children that had a hard time putting food on the table, according to a new study by the Food Research and Action Center. Nearly 35 percent of households with children in the Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area said "yes" when asked whether there were times during the course of a year when they did not have enough money to buy food, according to the study.
First Presbyterian Church provides weekend meals for 50 students at Diggs-Latham Elementary. Associate Pastor Amy Carlan said that church member Pat Blythe came to her and said, “There are child who are hungry in our community, and it’s not OK.”
Blythe is a member of a women’s circle at the church. “We were concerned about what we were reading and hearing about hungry children in our community,” said Blythe, who coordinates the program.
To raise money for the program, the church does such things as sell cookbooks, and, this year, the Christmas Eve offering will go to the BackPack program. A second group of women volunteered to provide fresh fruit to add to the students’ bags each week, and, on Fridays, the volunteers working with Blythe add that to the backpacks.
At Cook Elementary, Heather Leach, a volunteer who wanted to help hungry children in the community, established a program in partnership with Winston-Salem First. “It’s a way of getting the food directly in the hands of the children,” Leach said. “Every weekend when a child is eating, it makes a big difference in their lives.”
Leach generates support for the program by doing such things as speaking to service clubs at their meetings and inviting them to contribute. “Hunger is a real issue, and it’s in our back yard,” she said.
That support for the program from the wider community shows in others ways as well. The BackPack program presents logistical challenges. Because the partners buy the meals through Second Harvest, every so often they need to move two or three pallets of meals from Second Harvest to wherever the partner organization is storing it. Usually that means a storage room at the church.
Dewey’s Bakery stepped in and offered to make those deliveries with one of its trucks for the programs at Cook, Diggs-Latham and Bolton Elementary, which has a partnership with Knollwood Baptist Church.
“It’s a way to give back to the community and help some of the children,” said Chuck Pruitt, a Dewey’s vice president who belongs to Knollwood.
Other businesses help out in other ways. This year, the Food Lion Charitable Foundation contributed $3,000 to the program at Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, a partnership with Salem Chapel. And many individuals offer support. At Mineral Springs Elementary School, which has a BackPack partnership with Peace Haven Baptist Church, Gary and Ginger Hauser helped get the program off the ground with a sizable donation in honor of their youngest daughter, Megan, who died in 2008. “We have clearly heard a voice to say, ‘Feed the children,’” Ginger Hauser said.
For the 2012-13 school year, participating schools and their partner agencies are:
Ashley Elementary, Ardmore Baptist Church
Bolton Elementary, Knollwood Baptist Church
Brunson Elementary, Centenary United Methodist Church
Cook Elementary, Winston-Salem First
Diggs-Latham Elementary, First Presbyterian Church
Forest Park Elementary, First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem
Hall-Woodward Elementary, Sedge Garden United Methodist Church
Ibraham Elementary, Epiphany Lutheran Church
Kernersville Elementary, First Baptist Church of Kernersville
Mineral Springs Elementary, Peace Haven Baptist Church
North Hills Elementary, Mount Tabor United Methodist Church
Northwest Middle, Beck’s Baptist Church
Old Town Elementary, Bridges Church
Petree Elementary, United Metropolitan Mission Baptist Church
Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, Salem Chapel
South Fork Elementary, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Speas Elementary School, Hope Presbyterian Church
Walkertown Elementary, Morris Chapel United Methodist Church