The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

January 23, 2011

Two local women make it their mission to feed kids in need

PALESTINE — Glenda Alford and Jane Opell are two women on a mission -- to raise money to feed local children who may be going without.

“There’s a lot of little kids out there who need to be fed,” Alford said. “We have to make money for food.”

Alford, who was a substitute teacher, said she was especially moved one day after a little girl came up to her in class complaining of a stomach ache because she had not eaten since the previous Friday in school.

Longtime friends and former co-workers, Alford and Opell started the Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids program in Anderson County two years ago 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.

Through the program, school children who may not have enough food at home during the weekend receive a backpack with food at school on Fridays.

“We’ve gone up for grants but haven’t gotten anything yet,” Alford said about funding for the program.

“Many kids don’t eat on the weekend because they don’t have any food,” she continued. “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.

“Brookshires and Walmart have helped a lot,” Alford said. Walmart donated all the backpacks, which stay at the schools during the week until students pick them up on Friday.

The first year the program was introduced in Anderson County, 15 school children in Elkhart and Westwood participated. This year, Backpack 4 Kids has 75 children in Elkhart, Westwood, Frankston and Palestine receiving food for the weekend, with another 30 children already approved and on a waiting list until additional funds come in.

“We could probably add another 30 kids to the program right now if we had the funds to buy the food,” Alford said.

The program begins on Oct. 1 and runs through the end of the school year. It provides weekend food for participating children 38 weekends out of the year.

On Fridays, Alford and Opell deliver the bags of food to area schools to be placed in the backpacks. A sample backpack usually includes breakfast cereal, instant oatmeal, juice, milk, peanut butter and jelly packs, single portions of vegetables, can pasta meals such as macaroni and beef, and applesauce.

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.

Teachers keep a list with the names of participating children. On Fridays after the food is dropped off at the schools, children are called to the office and given the backpacks to take home. On Monday, they bring the empty backpacks back and turn them in.

“It’s very private so the children are not embarrassed,” Alford explained.

“For these kids, Friday is food day. For these kids, this food is a security blanket,” she continued. “We pray over this food every Friday. We pray for the supplies to feed more babies.”

Opell agreed. “This is so important to these kids,” she said.

Alford recalled watching one young boy with his backpack.

“While waiting on the bus he opened his backpack and had the sweetest look on his face as he was looking at the food,” she said.

The women’s friendship and faith sustains them and keeps them committed to their mission.

“We don’t want to see our little kids go without,” Alford said. “Our goal in five years, is that every child in Anderson County who needs it, gets it.”

Both women agreed that they are fortunate.

“I just thank God every day to get the opportunity to do this,” Alford said. “We are rich and blessed that God lets us do this.”

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A Flapjack Fundraiser to benefit Anderson County Backpack 4 Kids will be held Saturday, Feb. 5 at Applebee’s, 2225 S. Loop 256. The breakfast will be served from 8 to 10 a.m. Tickets are $6.

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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.

 

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