Backpacks of Love requested donations:
Cans of ravioli/spaghetti
Cups of macaroni and cheese
Cups of ramen noodles
Cans of soup
Peanut butter and jelly packets
Packages of crackers
Instant oatmeal packets
Microwave popcorn packets
Individually wrapped snack or meal items
Note: Cans should have pop tabs for easy opening
Child hunger isn’t a problem many people associate with Bryan County, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s a real threat that nearly 17 percent of children in the county face every day.
Melodie Lane, an employee at Richmond Hill Primary School and founding member of New Beginnings Community Church, noticed the need in Richmond Hill and decided to do something about it.
“I became aware of the fact that some children were going home hungry on the weekends, and I knew we needed to help, no matter the cost,” said Lane.
So in January, she launched Backpacks of Love, a New Beginnings ministry program that provides easy-to-eat, nutritious food to children at the elementary school level.
“While at school through the week, students are given breakfast and lunch, but on the weekends they’re hungry. Their families can’t always afford to keep their stomachs full,” she said.
The ministry collects items like canned soups and pastas, granola bars and fruit cups and distributes them to children whose families have demonstrated need.
“The schools refer children that are in need and send a form home to the parents. If the parents OK it, we bring backpacks stuffed with food for the kids to take home for the weekend. They bring the bags back on Monday, and we pick them up to refill again for Friday.”
Each backpack costs around $3 to fill. They include nonperishable food items that children can eat and prepare on their own.
Currently, Backpacks of Love serves 34 children in the Richmond Hill area. For children with siblings, Lane said she provides extra food to support all children in the home.
Dr. Brad Anderson, assistant superintendent of Bryan County Schools, said programs like Backpacks of Love are making a difference in the lives of Bryan County kids.
“As a school system, we really appreciate the commitment from the community to ensure that our kids are taken care of,” he said. “By feeding our children, the community is helping them grow up to be healthy, productive adults.”
Local efforts to combat child hunger are growing. Last week, the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Bryan County office received approval to help fund Lane’s program and a similar food assistance program in North Bryan run by Faith Harvest Sanctuary.
“If we can keep children fed and keep the hunger down, then we can impact not just their immediate basic need, but also their whole life,” said Kristi Cox, director of the United Way in Bryan County. “We’re proud to partner with these programs to help these children reach their potential.”
Cox said that demonstrated need in the schools and the growing number of people seeking food assistance spurred her office to make hunger its main focus for 2013.
“According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the total persons in poverty rate for Bryan County is 11.77 percent, the children in poverty rate is 16.54 percent, and the per capita income for Bryan County was $25,134,” she said. “Based on those numbers, Bryan County would need to distribute 121,609 pounds of food in Bryan County over a 12-month period to assist those who are food insecure.”
Backpacks of Love and the United Way are always seeking food and monetary donations.
To donate to Backpacks of Love, call New Beginnings Community Church at 445-0196, or drop off your donations in the collection bin located outside the church.
To learn more about the United Way’s assistance programs, visit www.uwce.org.