Hunger doesn’t take the weekend off

BackPack Weekend Food Program needs extra support this year

Source: The Gaston Gazette, www.gastongazette.com

Bill PoteatIn the late summer of 1999, just before my 44th birthday, I made a very abrupt transition from the news room to the class room.

No college course in classroom management. No theories of learning styles. No student teaching.

Here’s your room. Here’s your desk. Sink or swim. No floatation device provided.

I learned a lot and I learned it all very quickly.

One of the very first things I learned was that a teacher has to keep food in the classroom. Packs of Lance peanut butter crackers. Granola bars. Apples. Bananas.

A literal “grab and go” such as the Hampton Inn might provide.

The reason that cache of food was a necessity? Hungry kids can’t learn. Hungry kids can’t focus on the intricacies of “Macbeth.” Hungry kids can’t write a strong thesis statement.

Over the 18 years of teaching high school English that followed, I tried some new methods, listened to my peers, interacted with my students. Stuck with some new ideas. Abandoned others.

But one constant through those nearly two decades of teaching was “Mr. Poteat’s Food Drawer,” open all day, to anyone who needed it.

That face-to-face realization that hunger and learning don’t go together certainly helps me understand just how important the BackPack Weekend Food Program is to many pupils in Gaston County Schools.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program is designed to create partnerships between local churches or organizations and schools to provide students who meet specific qualifications a bag of non-perishable, nutritious food that they can eat over the weekend.

The students selected for the program are recommended by school counselors, social workers, teachers, school nurses and principals. These students are the ones most likely to be hungry on the weekend.

As Gaston Schools Superintendent Jeff Booker noted recently, roughly 65 percent of the pupils in our local schools are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under federal guidelines.

Noting that number and statistics often do little to put a human face on hunger, Booker continued, “What you have given to the BackPack program has helped feed hungry children right here in Gaston County. And remember, that backpack is not only addressing hunger. It has a direct connection to academic success.”

The BackPack program relies heavily on volunteer time and labor.

The program has dozens of partners around the county and more than 500 volunteers – volunteers who unload, sort, package, and deliver food to elementary, middle and high schools around the county. Read more here: