Making sure children in need go home with a backpack full of food every weekend is the goal of the Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids program.
The local group, which started out helping feed 25 children a week three years ago, now provides backpacks for 100 children from Palestine, Westwood, Elkhart, Neches and Frankston schools every week.
The backpacks, filled with food items such as oatmeal, pudding, fruit bars, kid-friendly containers of chili and red beans and rice, crackers, tuna and juice, are sent home on Friday and returned empty on Monday.
From 5 to 8 p.m. this Thursday, Bon Appetit Coffee Shop & Bakery will host its monthly community night event at the Palestine Mall featuring various Christian singers. Donations will benefit the Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids program and Bon Appetit will donate a portion of its sales during the day to the group as well.
“Backpacks for Kids is a wonderful organization that benefits the underprivileged children of Anderson County. All kids have a special place in our hearts. Let’s all be generous and help this organization give these kids a great start,” Peggy Marchant from Bon Appetit said Tuesday.
The women behind the Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids program — Glenda Alford and Jane Opell — will share information about the program during Thursday’s event.
“We’re hoping a lot of people show up,” Opell said Tuesday. “We want people to find out more about our program. The only way we raise money is by going to speak to churches, schools and organizations and asking for financial support. We don’t get any grants to do this.”
Longtime friends and former co-workers, Alford and Opell started the program in Anderson County after seeing a television story about a similar program in the Dallas area. They contacted the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler to start the weekend food program for local children.
“Many kids don’t eat on the weekend because they don’t have any food,” Alford said in a previous interview with the Herald-Press. “We’ve got babies going hungry on weekends. We need to take care of our own babies here.”
Backpack 4 Kids has its own account set up with the East Texas Food Bank so that any donation the program receives goes directly toward the purchase of food. Children are approved for the program by school counselors with help from teachers, since they know the children who are most in need. The program is confidential, Alford assured.
“We need to take care and support our children here first. Right here in Anderson County we have a need for this. That’s our duty,” Opell said. “There are more kids we would like to help but right now we have the funding to feed 100 children.”
Churches and organizations are encouraged to consider a monthly donation to the non-profit organization.
Altrusa International of Anderson County is one of the program’s biggest supporter along with a handful of area churches and schools. The organization also has a handful of volunteers who help out every week with delivery. The volunteers say a special prayer over the food every week.
“For these kids, Friday is food day...this food is a security blanket,” Alford said. “We pray over this food every Friday. We pray for the supplies to feed more babies.”
In November, a young student who heard about the program from his mother who had attended a presentation through her church group, approached Christian Heritage Academy about holding a fund-raiser for the Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids program.
CHA Administrator Tammy Patton agreed — letting the students raise money by offering to do extra chores around the house or helping in their community — and having a competition among the classes to see who could raise the most. Altogether, the fund-raiser raised $1,400 for the program. The school presented the check to the organization in December.
“Children helping other children — it doesn’t get any better than that,” Opell said.
Both Opell and Alford are willing to speak to any church, school or organization interested in learning more about the program.
“We would be glad to speak to their group,” Opell said. “If nothing else, keep us in prayer. God answers prayers. Keep us in your prayers so we can continue to do this for the children.”
To make a donation to Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids, send check or money order to: Backpack 4 Kids, P.O. Box 6974, Tyler, Texas, 75711 and include the account number 1225B. Donations also can be brought to the Bon Appetit event on Thursday at the Palestine Mall.
“Without the account number on the check, it doesn’t go to us, it just goes to the East Texas Food Bank — so please be sure to put that on there to make sure it benefits Anderson County kids,” Opell stressed.
For more information or to schedule a presentation, contact Opell at 903-723-1552 or Alford at 903-549-2769.
Herald-Press Managing Editor Angie Alvarado contributed to this report.