Backpack Buddies: 45 kids and growing

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Lynette Norris
ECB Publishing, Inc.

There was a “Backpack Buddies” program at the school where Elizabeth De Cardenas had worked previously, and she wanted to bring the program to Jefferson Elementary, but didn’t know how or whom to contact. Elsewhere in Jefferson County, a group of home-school parents had an epiphany about ‘feeding the lambs of Jesus’ – reaching out to the food-insecure children of Jefferson County – but they had no idea how to create a program to do that. One day, they met. It turned out the home-schooling parents knew exactly whom to contact. With a workable idea in the “Backpack Buddies” program, they reached out to Michelle Dollar, Tracy Peters and other people representing several different church denominations. These folks got together and worked hard to set up the program and bring it to Jefferson Elementary School children. They began when the 2015-2016 school year started, initially with ten children in the program, but almost immediately discovered they had enough funding for 15. By supplementing food received from Second Harvest with donated food items, each Friday, they were able to provide a small bag of food to each child. More people heard about the program and donated more food items and money, and the 15 children became 20 children by the end of October. Backpack Buddies adds more children to the program as soon as they have enough funding for that child for the rest of the school year; soon, the effort grew from 20 to 24, and then to 45. During the last week of school before the Christmas holiday, the assistant principal’s office was filled with bags of food and other goodies for the 45 children from 24 families who are currently in the program. In the interim, there have been food drives at the school, fundraisers, and a $500 donation from an individual who asked that it be used to buy Christmas gifts for the children. The JES team opted for art supplies for each child. For those in the 24 families who are caregivers, there are gift bags of hot chocolate mix, a mug, and a $4 gift certificate from Tupelo’s Bakery, which has also held fundraisers for “Backpack Buddies.” And there’s more - in addition to the Christmas gift and the usual weekly Backpack Buddies bag for each child, extra funding has allowed for a holiday food box for each of the 24 families, with staples like flour, sugar and bread as well as hot chocolate mix and some fresh fruit. (To back up just a little, just before the Thanksgiving holidays, a little extra funding allowed the program to provide each of the 24 families with a turkey. Some of the families had never had a turkey for Thanksgiving). Back in the October 21 edition of the Monticello News, Michelle Dollar and Tracy Peters thanked the community for their outpouring of generosity and spoke of delivering the bags to the school each week and “knowing that God was in charge of this ministry and has His hand was over these children.” The steady growth of “Backpack Buddies” would seem to bear this out. In January, they will be able to add ten more children.