The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

July 22, 2011

Food 4 Kids program in need of funds

PALESTINE — As mothers of two school teachers, longtime friends and former co-workers Glenda Alfred and Jane Opell have heard the heart-breaking stories of children who eat very little or nothing on the weekend — getting most of their nutrition from eating breakfast and lunch at school five days a week.

Two and a half years ago, the women started the Anderson County Backpack for Kids program as a way to provide a backpack with food for the children to take home on Fridays and return empty on Mondays.

But as the 2011-12 school year gears up, the women are in need of more funds to keep the program going.

“We really do need more funds for this program to be successful. That’s why we are trying to raise money,” Opell said Wednesday. “We have got grants in the past, but we don’t have any right now. It’s a hard time financially for everyone, but we feel this is an important ministry.”

The women spoke about the program to the Palestine Rotary Club on Wednesday and are open to speaking to churches and other organizations in the area.

“This is something God wants us to do — it’s a mission for us. As mothers of school teachers, we need to do this,” Opell said.

According to Alfred, one-in-five children on the free and reduced lunch program do not eat on the weekends — which is where the backpack food program comes in.

“The teachers tell us they see children happier. They can concentrate on their school work instead of their hungry little bellies,” Alfred said. “We all need to help feed our Anderson County school children.”

Last year, the program served 75 children in Anderson County.

“If we had the funds, we  would have been able to help 300 children,” Alfred said.

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.

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. The cost is $144 per child.

On Fridays, Alfred 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, Alfred 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,” Alfred explained in a previous interview.

“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.”

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.

“There is such a great need, won’t you help?” Alfred urged.

For more information about the backpack program or to request a speaker, call Alfred at 903-549-2769 or 903-373-5184 or Opel at 903-723-1552.

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