Backpacks sustained by countless volunteers
Every Thursday morning, there’s a flurry of activity at the Morgan County School Board office as volunteers pack and deliver canvas bags of food for needy students through the Morgan County Backpacks program.
Some 89 volunteers have given a total of 350 hours of service to the program since August. The entire program is volunteer-based, said Susan Caperton, Backpacks coordinator and committee chairperson.
The program provides a bag of kid-friendly nutritious food for students to take home every weekend. It began with sending food home to 69 needy school children in January 2012. Now 250 kids are served every week.
Non-perishable food items include canned soups, pasta meals, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, cereal, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, fruit cups and applesauce.
Volunteers from Union Chapel United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and a group from the school board office alternate weeks of packing.
Individual volunteers also help out. Starting Points AmeriCorps Vista volunteers Lexa VanDoren Kirk and Misty Stallard work closely with the program.
The packing process takes about an hour. Volunteers have their assembly line moves down to a science.
Jane Ambrose got involved with her daughter Betsy Banks, program school coordinator, and has been helping each week.
Union Chapel volunteers Retha Ruby said volunteer Karen Henry asked them in church to help with the program.
“I feel it’s my Christian duty,” Ruby said.
Henry saw a newspaper article about Morgan County Backpacks and asked Union Chapel Church members to help.
“She works us all under the table,” Janet Staples said of Ruby.
The reward is “just knowing we’re helping somebody and knowing that one child in Morgan County isn’t going home hungry,” Staples said.
Donna Fallin enjoys talking with everyone and helping the kids.
The Union Chapel ladies also help with the Mealtime Community Kitchen once a month.
Feels blessed to help
Portia Henry said she came to help others, but feels she’s the one who is being blessed.
Backpacks committee member Gloria Winters said her neighbor Dawn Beal got her involved last January. Winters hasn’t missed a Thursday.
“It feels good to give to these kids. It’s a shame we have to,” Winters said.
Beal, a founding Backpacks volunteer, said, “It’s sad that we have to do this, but there is a need for it in this economy.”
They’re able to do the program through community donations and the volunteer labor, Beal said.
Beal mainly delivers to Widmyer Elementary. She gets donations from teachers every week. The Widmyer faculty donated over 1,000 cans of food in two weeks from a competition between the teams Weber’s Weekends and Molnar’s Meals.
School board member Pat Springer helps to pack food bags and deliver food to Greenwood Elementary. Springer felt she needed to do whatever supported the kids and also gives a donation each week.
Springer said a principal told her that they didn’t know what they would do without the program.
“Kids are saying they wouldn’t have anything to eat on the weekend,” Springer said.
Springer enjoys the camaraderie and it makes her feel like she’s doing something to help.
Susan Chadick recently moved here and wanted to get involved with something. She met Caperton at a Yoga class and heard about Backpacks.
Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Lemon got involved with the program through the Sheriff’s Office. Over the past year and a half, he’s helped pack and deliver food when he’s off-duty.
“It doesn’t take much time and it’s a very worthy cause,” Lemon said.
He added it is an eye-opener to see how many bags were being packed.
“I had no idea so many kids were going home hungry every weekend,” he said.
The biggest challenge has been sustaining the program, which costs around $50,000 a year. The community has really embraced the program, donating food, money and time, Caperton said.
“We have wonderful volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them,” she said.
All donations go toward the food, she said. The school board provides space and Starting Points oversees the program’s finances.
Schools choose the children they feel need the extra food each week. It’s all kept anonymous.
Caperton noted the program is just one piece of the puzzle and encouraged the community to continue to give to other efforts such as MCEAT and the Mealtime Community Kitchen.
For more information about Morgan County Backpacks, call Starting Points at 304-258-5600 or Susan Caperton at 304-886-8827.