Backpack Program makes a push for funds
by Tilly Dillehay Editor
The Backpack Program in Macon County, which has now been feeding local hungry children for over three years, is in financial straits.
“We just had a meeting,” said program director Melissa Shrum, “and we had $682 in the budget. Our weekly costs are $900. Our funds are very slow right now.”
She said that the Community Advisory Board is in fundraising mode, with several events coming up to get local hunger back in the public awareness.
Sept 24th and 27th they will be holding a can drive at the MCJH vs Westmoreland and MCHS vs Greenbrier football games. Football fans that bring in three single serve can items or one multi pack item will receive a $1 off ticket for the home concession stand. Items needed the most are individual serving pop top cans of ravioli, beanie weenies, or etc., juice boxes, and shelf stable milk boxes.
Saturday September 28 they will be holding a road block, taking monetary donations for the Backpack Food Program. The Masons will also be doing a hamburger sale that day at Walmart, from 10-2, to benefit the Backpack Program.
A pancake breakfast is in the works for the end of October or beginning of November. “I just want people to know what this is all about when we ask for money like that,” said Shrum. “It’s not for the schools; it’s for the kids.”
The C.A.B. would like to thank the following for their recent donations: The Lafayette Lions Lioness Club $500, two anonymous Lions Lioness member donations of $100 and $170, and Macon Helps $3000.
And what exactly does the program do, for those of you who haven’t read anything about them in the past few years?
Macon County Coordinated School Health (CSH) and Macon County Community Advisory Board (CAB) decided to partner and do something about Macon County school-age hunger in 2009.
“We began to look for ways to fund a program to feed the students. We knew there were weekend backpack programs in other counties,” said Jackie Sircy with CSH, who co-directs the program with Shrum.
“After doing the research about the other programs I decided to contact Second Harvest Food Bank and see how we could get the ball rolling,” said Shrum. “In November 2009 we applied for and receive a grant through Second Harvest Food Bank for 100 students to receive food to be sent home for the weekend. After a few months Second Harvest added an additional 60, so they now fund 160 students.”
The Backpack Program was started in January of 2010 and 2,887 backpacks were distributed through the end of the school year. The second year the program distributed 5,650 backpacks and last year there were 6,565 backpacks sent home with students. Approximately 62% of students in Macon County Schools are on free and reduced lunch. But within this number are the students who often go unnoticed by the school system. These are the students who sometimes go without at home, either for reasons of neglect or because parents are simply too poor to buy enough food. These are the students that the Backpack Program seeks to help.
The students are not selected because they are receiving government assistance but by school personnel. Teachers, cafeteria workers, school nurses, and other staff are of the ones who notice that a child may hungry.
“Children might come in on Monday and act extra hungry by asking for seconds and often finishing another child’s meal” said Jackie. “Or they may be less attentive in class on Monday but as the week progresses the student seems more alert. This is a good sign that they may not be getting enough at home.”
Second Harvest Food Bank got involved with the program early on, and donates food once a month, which is stored at the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency (UCHRA). The two Learning Service programs at RBSHS and MCHS are also very involved, organizing, packing the food, and delivering it to the schools each week. These programs are led by Vera Brewer (MCHS) and Lori Powell (RBSHS) oversee these students.
Once the bags are at the schools, a designated person discreetly delivers the backpacks to the students on the program.
There are currently 174 students on the program at an average cost of $4.48 each per week, which comes to $17.92 per month or $174.72 per year. The food that Second Harvest provides contains 2 individual cereals, 1 juice box, 1 milk, a single serve mac n’ cheese, 1 canned entrée, a fruit cup, and an applesauce cup. The CAB typically adds an additional milk, juice, entrée, and snacks to supplement what Second Harvest provides, besides covering any students beyond the 160 covered by the Second Harvest grant.
Due to an increase in need and decrease in additional grant money/donations, the amount of food sent home with each student has scaled back this year. Rather than scale each lunch back even more, the program has had to stop accepting more children until funds are back up.
If anyone would like to make a donation, this can be done through Macon Helps. Money should be earmarked “Backpack Program.” Any organizations that would like to help should contact Melissa Shrum at 666-2125 ext. 134. Also, Like them on Facebook.
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