Snap, Crackle and Pop! How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal? Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat. What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program? The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat. The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”
Gaston County Schools currently report that 66 percent of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10 percent increase in need from 2011, when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 44 percent of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.
The BackPack Weekend Food Program has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools now. The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950-plus students this year. The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Road. It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.
Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students.
The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7 percent. A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.
Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach. As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education. Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.
The BackPack Weekend Food Program is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70 percent of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.