A group of kids took their opportunity to attend Vacation Bible School at one local church to a new extreme.
Challenged to collect $500 to be donated to a local mission, children who were part of the summer program at New Bethel Baptist Church rallied and surpassed their challenge, collecting $528.33 that was donated to the Backpack Buddies program.
“The kids were challenged to bring donations each night, and encourage their friends to bring a donation,” Cameron Jacobs, missions leader during the VBS, said. “Not only did our kids meet the challenge, but they collected more and were willing to step up when asked to help local children in need.”
According to Jean Kunzman, Backpack Buddies is a food ministry that provides bags of non-perishable food items to children in Clinton City Schools grades pre-K through eighth over the weekend and holidays. On average, the organization distributes more than 250 bags of food each week during the school year.
The donation from New Bethel Baptist Church will allow for 300 bags to be made.
Every week, Kunzman and about 15 other volunteers meet weekly at Sunset Avenue School to assemble the hundreds of bags and fill them with food items that have been donated by local businesses, organizations and churches. Many of the volunteers are retired teachers and understand the need for students to receive the food.
During school hours, children are fed breakfast and lunch and for the majority of children who are part of the Backpack Buddies program, these meals are free. Breakfast is free for all students in Clinton City Schools. The problem comes when students are sent home on Friday afternoons and will not return to school until Monday morning.
“We pack enough food to tide them over the weekend,” Kunzman shared. “Many of these kids don’t have a clue where they will get food from when they aren’t in school.”
Backpack Buddies tries to incorporate items in the bags that children can prepare themselves and without the need for additional food items to be purchased by the families. Within the bags, Kunzman said they include cereal, oatmeal, canned pasta, vegetables and soup, Pop Tarts, fruit bars, raisins, fruit and pudding cups and cheese crackers.
“These bags are sent to the homes who are the working poor,” Kunzman explained. “The parents work and often make just enough that they don’t get government assistance. When it comes to paying bills or buying food, many times the parent has to choose to pay the bill.”
The students needs are often recognized by their teacher and then they make the school counselor, social worker and principal aware of the student and need. A letter is sent home to the parent asking for permission to send the food home each week. Kunzman said each sibling who is in school and lives in the home receives a bag on Fridays.
Throughout the year, the food is often given through donations from civic organizations, businesses and churches, such as First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, Lions Club, Food Lion, Rotary Club, BETA at Clinton High School, PTAs at local schools, Sampson Community College and the girl and boy scouts.
According to Kunzman, the average family of four will miss approximately 100 meals a month because of the lack of money to purchase food. As a result, Kunzman said children are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, develop impairments, have more social and behavioral problems and at a higher risk for chronic health issues.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.