CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After starting up 11 years ago, a program is once again working with area schools to stuff backpacks with food in an effort to feed kids during the summertime.
The Backpack Buddies program is returning across six West Virginia counties, including all of Putnam and Boone Counties, and Kanawha, Clay, Cabell, and Raleigh Counties.
Program Leader, Doug Erwin said after working with the schools to try various ways to get food to children during the summer, such as holding food pick-ups and drop-offs, they realized that many kids didn’t have a means of transportation to get to those locations where the food was being dispersed, so they had to dig deeper on finding an effective way to get the food to them.
“We started looking at ‘how can we help kids in the summertime?’ and we started talking to the teachers and the counselors in the schools, that truly have the core of their being as supporting our kids,” said Erwin.
After starting with three schools in Putnam County 11 years ago, Erwin said getting a simple box directly to the hands of the kids has been the platform for the growing mission.
“What we developed is a box that we work with the post office, it’s a 12×12, we put 23 different items in the box, shelf-stable food, and we actually mail the box to the kids during the summertime,” he said.
The box includes a variety of types of food– fruits, vegetables, pasta, oatmeal and cereal bars are among some of the variety.
The boxes are shipped out every other week during the summer totaling five boxes to the participating families.
While students who receive assistance during the school year are the focus for the enrollment in the summer program, no student who asks for assistance is denied help, regardless of their suspected economic situation.
In addition, Erwin said that the boxes blend in with any other package in the mail in order to not raise any kind of judgement or stigma.
“The best thing about it is the boxes, when we mail it to them, it’s just a box, it looks like Amazon or something that you just bought off of eBay, so there’s no stigmatism to it,” said Erwin.
Erwin said the program and its community partners and volunteers hold their Community Packing Day on the first Saturday in June in Putnam County where they buy all of the food for the summer and pack them into the boxes to be shipped out. This year it will be Saturday, June 3 at 10 a.m. at the Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene.
He said while they have packed a lot of boxes over the years since the onset of the program, they expect to pack over 4,000 boxes for Putnam County alone this Saturday, the most they’ve ever had.
“The need that we have this year is great, we have over 2,000 kids participating which is the most ever that we’ve had, and we’ve been relatively successful over the years since we have had it, we’ve mailed almost 37,000 boxes of food since the program started,” said Erwin.
Erwin said they plan to pack 4,000 boxes in under 2 hours Saturday.
Backpack Buddies will hold the next packing day for Boone County at the Madison Civic Center on Saturday, June 10 at 10 a.m. where they will be packing over 2,000 boxes.
As they have so many boxes to fill, Erwin said they could use as many volunteers as they can get to help out. He encourages civic groups, sports teams, or students needing community service hours to volunteer. He said they will receive a certificate recognizing their participation for their volunteer work.
Erwin also said that while the food gets paid for through grants and donations, already having built up a strong donor base throughout the years the program has been in operation, they are always looking for more donors due to the rising cost of food.
Along with food boxes, the program also provides a personal care box in the week before the start of the school year, which includes soap, shampoo, dental supplies, brushes and nail clippers.