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Backpack Love helps provide food to families in Hall County

Program costs $1,500 to $1,800 a week

POSTED: October 27, 2011 12:43 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Bethany Hanna, right, joins Josh Lepock, center, and Rachel Johnson in filling backpacks with food Wednesday evening at Chestnut Mountain Church. Hanna and Johnson are members of The Springs Church and were volunteering their help.

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Imagine being in third grade. It’s Friday morning. You come to school and have a healthy breakfast of milk, fruit and a biscuit. A few hours later, you go with your class to eat a grilled cheese sandwich and green beans for lunch.

Now imagine that’s the last full meal you’ll have until Monday morning.

“Our kids would come in and tell us they weren’t eating on the weekends,” said Katie Strickland, a consultant for Lyman Hall Elementary School. “They would have breakfast and eat very quickly. Lyman Hall has a very high poverty rate. It got me thinking that if they’re coming hungry, they’re not eating on the weekend.”

Strickland and several other members of her church worked to put together a program to provide food to these children.

“We began packing a backpack full of food, which grew to eight backpacks, and when we considered the great need at this one school alone, we knew the issue had to be widespread,” Flowery Branch Elementary School counselor April Bagwell said in an email to The Times.

A year and a half later, what started with a small group has now expanded into a ministry of its own, Backpack Love.
“What we try to do is build a backpack with dinner for Friday, Saturday and

Sunday for a family of four to five,” said Todd Robson, a member of Straight Street Revolution Ministry, which created the Backpack Love program. “We have a breakfast meal for Saturday and Sunday and a lunch for Saturday and Sunday. Plus we put a bag of cookies and maybe peanut butter in there for snacks.”

The food is all nonperishable — spaghetti, pasta sauce, canned meat, Ramen noodles, oatmeal, granola bars, PopTarts, grits and macaroni are all popular meals Backpack Love sends home with kids.

It costs between $1,500 and $1,800 a week to keep the program going, Robson said. The group does receive financial support from its church and local businesses, but with continued expansion in mind, the expenses will rise as well.

“Love in action is meeting people where they are with what they need, and we’d like to think we have loved well,”Bagwell said. “But the need continues and we need more help in feeding the families of Hall County.”
Strickland’s small group and Robson’s ministry combined forces last spring.

“She was talking about how they have some students that weren’t eating on the weekends,” Robson said. “I asked how big is this problem in our county, and she said it was in every school.”

His group started helping Strickland’s with a few backpacks, and in April, Straight Street Revolution adopted Backpack Love as its main outreach program.

By August 2010, the program was giving backpacks to 18 families in two schools. By December, the program had expanded to 40 backpacks in six schools, and by the end of the school year, they had 92 backpacks in 11 schools.

Backpack Love started again this August with 100 families and it’s already up to 170 in 22 of the Hall County schools.

“It’s really helping families,” Robson said. “There’s so many kids not eating on the weekends.”

Straight Street Revolution also helps families out occasionally with paying bills and over the holidays, they send family games in the backpacks too.

“From a school standpoint, the ministry of Backpack Love has been well-received. Families have called and written notes saying they just didn’t know how they would provide for their family that very night, and then their child came home with a backpack full of food,” Bagwell said. “Others have found the gift of food a way to get back on their feet and after a season of time call or write to say they have what they need now, pass on the backpack to another family who is hungry.”

Bagwell said people tend to believe hunger is an issue that only affects other countries.

“The harsh reality is it is right here, in Hall County, in your neighborhood,” she said. “Kids your children go to school with lack the stocked pantry and access to snacks and food like many of our children take for granted. When we get over the denial and accept this is an issue in our community and realize that by picking up an extra jar of sauce and box of pasta we can make a difference.”



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