Close your eyes and imagine the expression on your child or grandchild’s face as he leaves school on a Friday afternoon. Do you see a bright smile? One that reflects the weekend to come – a carefree time full of fun? Now imagine the face of four-year old Kaedyn leaving school to confront another weekend of hunger.
In Greenville County, nearly 47 percent of school children are eligible for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Families who earn less than 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals while those with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level qualify for reduced price meals. These eligibility guidelines are established by the USCA based on household size and income.
While these programs insure that eligible students have nourishing meals at school, many face empty refrigerators and pantries when they head home every Friday. Thanks to Harvest Hope Food Bank along with faith partners, businesses and schools more than 550 Greenville area children receive a backpack on Fridays filled with at least seven meals.
Guidance counselors and teachers at schools participating in the BackPack Program report that students who receive weekend backpacks show improvement in attendance, behavior and grades, and exhibit an overall improvement in motivation and attitude about school.
Dr. Etheleen Lawson, Director of the Fuller Normal School in Greenville, reached out to Harvest Hope in September 2014 identifying a need for weekend meals. The Fuller Normal School, a private, religious school with 100 students in K-4 through 3rd grade, has 90% of its students eligible for free and reduced lunches. Through the BackPack Program, Harvest Hope now provides more than 700 meals to children at Fuller Normal each month.
Dr. Lawson is thankful for the support she has received from Harvest Hope and area church leaders. “From my very first meeting with Danielle St Marie, Harvest Hope’s Child Feeding Coordinator, the idea for a program at Fuller Normal was embraced. I can’t begin to tell you how pleased we are to be able to feed our children over the weekends, “ said Dr. Lawson.
Each Friday, individually packaged bags of food are delivered to the school. “The folks delivering are so helpful and they are always on time,” shares Dr. Lawson. Kid-friendly, nutritious items make up the menus, and everything is nonperishable and easy for children to open. Bags of food are packed into the students’ backpacks as they head home for the weekend.
Bishop Patrick Frazier, President of Fuller Normal School, commended the program and said, “Many of our children come from single-parent households and live in poverty. We are so pleased to partner with Harvest Hope’s BackPack Program to be sure our children are not going hungry when they are away from schools. It is a wonderful addition to the nutrition they receive when they are here.”
So what is the best part of the BackPack Program? I believe it is that children, like Kaedyn, leave school on Friday afternoons with beaming smiles and a bag full of nourishment. “Those smiles would make you think they are carrying a million dollars on their backs,” added Dr. Lawson.
Harvest Hope Food Bank feeds the hungry across 20 counties of South Carolina. Last year the organization distributed more tan 28 million pounds of food and fed approximately 38,000 people every week. For more information, please visit www.harvesthope.org.
Photos provided by Fuller Normal School