The DeKalb County School System's BackPack Program began a few years ago as a means of providing essential foods to needy children over the holidays to keep them from going hungry. Since then the program has grown and now, needy children get food to take home every week for the weekend when school is out.
With the holidays coming up and school being out for a longer period, volunteers and supporters of the Back Pack program have been busy this week preparing bags and boxes of foods that contain a little more to get the children through the Christmas season.
"This is an example of what one school is going to get," said Dee Anna Reynolds, School Health Coordinator, pointing to a stack of food boxes in the corner of a room in the Central Office building Wednesday. "This is what kids from Northside will get this weekend. You've got food boxes there that came from Food Lion, which they donated. They have donated those the last three years. We get that along with the other food that we have purchased through donations in our community and the small grant that we got through the community foundation. Those food boxes will go home with the kids on the bus this week," she said.
More than two hundred needy children from schools throughout the county benefit from the Back Pack program including fifty seven this year who will get a home visit with a little extra food supply for Christmas. "This is additional food for families who the school health coordinators have identified as a little more needy," said Reynolds. "In addition to the food they're already getting this weekend to take home, we'll deliver to their homes on Friday. We also have for them a bag of goodies, such as play-doh, coloring books, crayons, matchbook cars, gloves, hats, etc. They'll get a turkey and some fresh fruit to go with their boxes so they'll have everything they'll need over the holidays," said Reynolds.
"For the home deliveries, the children selected are the most needy in the county. We have one family who has nine children. We have families who have one child but those are the ones who are having the biggest struggle this year," said Cindy Childers, Assistant School Health Coordinator.
"They (children who get the home deliveries) are already on our backpack program, but we're giving them a little extra. They'll get their regular weekly backpack with extra in it for the break. We also like to make the home deliveries ourselves because it makes it a little more personal," added Reynolds.
With much of the foods, children can easily open the packages without adult supervision. "Its food that a child as young as a kindergarten student can just open and eat. Its peanut butter and crackers, gummy fruit, pudding, instant oatmeal, peanuts, and things like that," said Childers.
"We have a population of homeless people here that we're trying to serve right now. Some don't have stoves or refrigeration and those kids don't have the access so we're trying to make sure they have a little something to eat and drink to get them through the weekend or holidays," she said.
"The foods are prepackaged. There are Slim Jims for protein. Peanuts for protein. Peanut butter and crackers for the good carbs, things like that," said Reynolds.
"We've also got Ramen noodles and foods that came from Second Harvest which Food Lion donated to us. That actually has complete meals in it. Plus oatmeal and things like that, which if they (children) have access to water, they can eat it even without heating it up," Childers added.
The BackPack Program is supported by donations and it will continue weekly as long as donations keep coming. "The Backpacks go home every weekend. The first large donation we got was from a local person who wanted to stay anonymous. It was his request that we do it every week until the money runs out. The money has not run out yet. For some strange reason, when we get to that last few dollars, the good Lord sends somebody in with more money so we can continue on," said Childers.
"A lot of the food that we're delivering has also been donated by individuals, churches, and the hospital," added Reynolds.
Transportation Supervisor Jimmy Sprague is a big supporter of the BackPack Program and both Reynolds and Childers say they appreciate his help. "We're not sure of his connections but he has been able to help us the last two or three years. This year he got us eight to ten pound Butterball turkey breasts donated for each family. Each family will receive a turkey breast. Two years ago he helped us with some canned hams. We delivered fifty canned hams. We were able to give some families more than one. He also helped us with getting fruit last year," said Reynolds.
Sprague also helps with some of the deliveries. "Because he knows the roads in DeKalb County, he takes care of everything under the hill that is kind of obscure. He makes sure he takes care of that after all the children have been delivered home. He is on the road helping us out a lot more than people would imagine," Childers said.
"I will be delivering "Turkey Boxes" to twenty one families In DeKalb county on Friday," said Sprague. "This year we have been provided "Honeysuckle" turkey breast from our local supporters, Mr. Jamie Turner and Larry's Discount Grocery. This is a great program that provides meals and snacks for the children that could go without over the Christmas break if it were not for this program. I would like to thank all the people that have helped with this program. From the donations to the groups that pack the boxes each week. We have been blessed with local churches, youth groups, and local businesses that have stepped up to help with this program. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all who have helped in any way big or small," Sprague said.
Many volunteers pitch in and help to make the program successful. "We have some great volunteers here at the office that help us every week to get the food in and out and we've got some people who are going to be helping us with the home deliveries," said Childers.
Reynolds said the BackPack program is meeting a great need in our county and the families served are grateful for it. "We have always known the need was there. This is our fourth year for home deliveries. That first year for me was an eye opener. I realized how much we do have that need. It's become a passion between Cindy and I and every year we're able to do a little bit more," she said.
"I know that people think fifty seven children are not many for our county but that's fifty seven children that would not have food. If you line those up, fifty seven children is a lot to go hungry, especially at Christmas in a community where we profess to be such a loving and giving community. This proves that we are. People have stepped up. They don't want glory for it. They just want to help out our kids. If you have given, we truly appreciate you,' said Childers.
"The families really appreciate it. You can tell that," added Reynolds.
"The need is here. We're trying to fulfill it. I know that we're missing some. If you know of somebody out there who is in need please give us a call at the Board of Education. We want to help those people," concluded Childers.