If you saw a student carrying a backpack home on a Friday afternoon, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought.
If you did, you’d think he’s just using the pack to carry his school books and homework, not enough food to feed his family all weekend until school starts again Monday.
But every Friday, nearly 400 students in Gainesville and Hall County schools are able to do just that through the Backpack Love ministry sponsored by area churches and SS Revolutions Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Gainesville.
Beau Robson, lead revolutionary for SS Revolutions, said the mission has grown substantially since it started with just 20 backpacks in 2010.
The mission began after a small group of people heard about how some students go hungry between lunch at school Friday and breakfast at school Monday morning.
“As the program has gotten older, the numbers have definitely grown,” Robson said. “I don’t know if that’s because more families have become in need or if that’s because more people realize we’re here since the program started. But the need has definitely grown.”
The ministry packs and delivers an average of 288 backpacks. Six area churches pack and deliver an additional 100 backpacks to 27 schools in Hall County. Teachers and school counselors notify the group if there is a child in need.
The food is carried in backpacks so hungry students won’t be singled out by their classmates.
Though the volunteers and church partners who make the mission possible may not come from the same background, Robson said it’s an easy mission for people to get excited about.
“This is something everyone can get on board with no matter what you’re doctrinal views are,” Robson said. “Everyone can get on board with sharing Jesus’ love to hungry kids. I don’t care who you are, you’ll like seeing hungry kids get fed. I think that’s the huge draw of this.”
Six volunteers, all young people, packed their car trunks and truck beds with backpacks and delivered them to schools along their designated route.
Blane Dixon, said he doesn’t have much room in the back of his Mustang but that doesn’t mean he can’t help with the deliveries. He and another volunteer just ride together with a larger load.
Dixon said he’s just happy to be able to help.
“I love it,” Dixon said. “They’ve got great things going here. I’m just trying to help out.”
The backpacks carry enough food to feed a family of five three meals for two days. They also carry a letter with the ministry’s phone number in case the group can help the family another way.
“Obviously the bigger goal is to connect families back to the gospel,” said Trey Hildebrant, board member of the nonprofit and youth pastor of Chestnut Mountain Church. “We want to be able to connect families beyond just giving them food.”
The ministry also connects to families through service projects and the occasional block party.
Robson said it’s not an inexpensive mission; the filled backpacks costs the nonprofit about $3,000 a week. Backpacks the churches fill cost another $1,000.
The missions are supported through donations from Prime Pak Foods, Victory Foods, Freedom Transport USA and others.
Robson said the Backpack Love mission offers churches and organizations that want to get involved an easy way to get their feet wet.
“It’s an easy way to get involved,” Robson said. “It’s a good starter mission for people who aren’t ready to go out and bold-face evangelize or whatever. This is a good way to introduce people to mission or for churches who are looking to branch out and get their missions going.”
Anyone who is interested in getting involved, either through donation food or money, packing backpacks or delivering to schools can contact Robson at 770-561-1744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.