Food backpacks fill gaps for hungry school children

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Aug 9, 2017 at 7:38 PM

With schools across Northeast Tennessee back in session, Second Harvest Food Bank is asking the community for help with its food backpack program for kids who do not have enough to eat at home.

In a press release issued last week, the food bank reported 41,114 economically disadvantaged schoolchildren in the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee qualify for the federal free or reduced price meal programs provided through their schools.

The release noted “consistent access to food ensures children receive the nutrition they need to learn and grow” and when school is out of session for a weekend, a holiday or even for an evening, many of these children do not know when or where they will get their next meal.

A collaborative effort by Second Harvest and public school systems in each Northeast Tennessee county, the Food for Kids Backpack Program is designed to curb child hunger after school, on weekends and during school breaks.

The program provides a bag of nutritious snacks and easily prepared food items that are distributed to chronically hungry children every other Friday afternoon.

Last year the program served 4,741 children attending 139 elementary, middle and high schools in 14 area school districts and the food bank estimates 4,672 children in the region will need the backpack program this school year.

The food bank has budgeted funds to to expand the program to meet the increased need this school year. Through wholesale purchases of most of the food distributed in the backpacks, the program costs the food bank less than $100 per child per year.

To help keep the program’s cost low, Second Harvest relies heavily on volunteers and school staff members to pack and distribute backpack food at no cost to the children’s families and with careful discretion to minimize the labeling of child or their family as being in need.

Emphasizing the need for the community’s support for the program, Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin said, “without the financial assistance of generous donors, we wouldn’t be able to help hungry children with weekend meals.”

Corporate contributors to the program this school year so far include the American Electric Power Foundation, the CenturyLink Clarke M. Williams Foundation, IPA Foundation, Johnson County Community Foundation, Sullivan South Area Community Chest, United Way of Unicoi County, Variety of East Tennessee and local municipal funds. And still, Chafin said, there is a huge need for community donations and volunteers to support the program.

Anyone interested in donating to or volunteering with backpack programs is asked to call Second Harvest at 423-279-0430. Families who believe their children qualify for the Food for Kids Backpack program may contact their school guidance counselor for assistance.

Brother’s Keeper, the faith-based education and enrichment program for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, has announced a roster of three fundraising events to help with the program’s recent expansion.

Throughout August, the Buttermilk Pie shop will conduct a “Pie It Forward” benefit through which a portion of the proceeds from every banana cream pie sold will go to Brother’s Keeper.

From 5-9 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 14, Barberito’s on Peoples Street will donate 20 percent of its proceeds to Brother’s Keeper.

And from 2-3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27, Brother’s Keeper will host a “Sundae Social” with all-you-can-eat ice cream for $10 for adults and $5 for children.

For more information about any of the events, visit the Brother’s Keeper Facebook page or contact Anissa Lyttle at [email protected] or 423-360-4065.

If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at 423-722-0538 or P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.


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