‘Danville Backpacks’ feeding minds, bodies

 

Photos by Steven Mantilla/Danville Register & Bee

About 20 volunteers packed 77 bags filled with various food items with lightning quick speed at God’s Storehouse on Dec. 5.

BackpacksVolunteer Casey Carroll talks to volunteers about their packaging goals at God’s Storehouse on Dec. 5.

Backpacks

Backpacks Mckenzie Payne, 17, packs away a finished food bag at God’s Storehouse on Dec. 5.

Two generous grants have made it possible for some local schoolchildren to take home backpacks full of food to feed them over the weekend.

Last spring the local food pantry God’s Storehouse tried a pilot program called “Danville Backpacks” in which the organization packed food for Danville kids to take home over the weekend.

Recently God’s Storehouse found out that the Hughes Foundation had awarded the program $40,000 and the Womack Foundation awarded another $8,000 to buy food to pack for the children.

The grants enabled the program to move from a pilot program to a full-fledged program, according to Karen Harris, executive director of God’s Storehouse. She said that the first distribution of backpacks was on Oct. 18.

“We reached 65 students in the spring and have a goal with this program to reach 150, but actually have reached 129,” she said. “We had some money left over from the pilot program and with these grants, we have money to last for the entire school year and maybe through the first of the next year.”

The program is presently limited to certain students in kindergarten and first grade in only one Danville school, but after the first of the year Harris hopes to expand the program to more grades.

The meals are designed carefully to be non-perishable, easy to open, edible without heating and must meet weight and nutritional standards. The program was begun by Feeding America.

Grateful for the support

The backpack program has been well received by the school community, the students and the parents, said Melany Stowe, director of communications and community outreach with Danville Public Schools.

“The program is well organized and very focused on giving back and helping with the needs outside of the school day,” she said. “We are grateful for the support. Our primary goal is to teach children, but if children are hungry, teaching is impossible. Plus it feels good to know that students are going home and aren’t going to miss breakfasts and lunches.”

She said she has spoken with other schools where there is interest in the program, and the school system is certainly open to organizations that could donate money to expand the program to other schools.

“In the school system we have clubs that collect food for God’s Storehouse. It truly takes a community effort to work with families to help them,” she said.

Growing the program

God’s Storehouse is seeking to develop partnerships with churches and other organizations to expand the program.

“We have a partnership with West Main Baptist Church,” she said. “We believe this is how we will grow the program. West Main coordinates the program and volunteers, packs the bags and takes them to the school.”

Harris said it doesn’t take long to pack the bags — less than 30 minutes — if they have even 10 volunteers.

Not only is God’s Storehouse seeking groups and individuals to help pack the backpacks, but for donations designated for food for the backpacks.

“We have heard back in a roundabout way from several people at the school who say that [the program] makes a difference in the alertness level of the students on Monday morning,” Harris said. “We really believe this program lines up well with our mission of feeding the hungry.”

Elzey is a freelance writer with the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or (434) 791-7991.

Non-Profit food pantry serving Danville and Pittsylvania Counties in Southwest Virginia