The first Backpack Pals program concept was developed in a Little Rock public school after a school nurse asked for help. Hungry students were coming to her with stomach aches and dizziness on Monday morning. The illnesses steamed from hunger. The local food bank began to donate food in paper bags for the children to carry home each weekend. Paper bags did not always survive the trip home and simple backpack replaced the bag. Backpack Pals is a nationally recognized program.
A number of children eat lunch at 11 am on Friday and will not have another meal until school breakfast on Monday morning. Members of Helping Hands of Hamlet are working to lend a hand to our local children that have little or nothing to eat over the weekend.
The Backpack Pals for Richmond County children come from homes with a high rate of unemployment, the working poor, or the absentee parent home. Individual situations vary depending on the school. At one school the unemployment rate has 95% of the children on the free or reduced lunch program.
The majority of families are living at or below the poverty level. A number of the children are left home alone on a regular basis and must care for themselves.
Backpack Pals program serves children in K through 3rd grade. The program started at Rohanen Primary in 2006 with 36 children. Currently the program serves 325 plus students in all 9 of our Richmond County Elementary schools.
We have a constant addition of children in dire need of support. Students in need make fund rising more important than ever. We work to add all children in to the program.
The children in the program are selected by the school administration and social workers. The children’s identities are held in complete confidence by each school. Participants are part of the program without consideration to their race or gender.
Christmas of 2007, for the first time, two backpacks did not return from the weekend trip home. The two children had an unexpected residence change over the weekend. I image they are quite disappointed to find that those backpacks don’t still translate into food after that move.
Each week, backpacks are filled with food and taken to the school. On Friday, students pick up a backpack and head home. The backpacks are returned each Monday. Every Friday, the children are so excited to receive their backpacks. The children cannot return the backpacks fast enough on Monday because they know they will be filled back up for the next weekend.
Backpacks are reused each week. Backpacks are filled by volunteers each week.
We have several business groups that fill backpacks as part of a community services program. Wal Mart and Piedmont Natural Gas are a few of our other volunteer groups.
Several weeks ago, a Girl Scout Troop worked to fill backpacks as part of their community spirit project. We welcome any community group to visit the program or offer help.
The state estimate is $6.50 per child per week. All fund contributed to the Backpack Pals program goes directly to the program. Backpack Pals for Richmond County does not receive constant or guarantee funding from any state supported funding agency. Our program is on the waiting list to be added to Moore County program. Private fundraising continues to be the only source of funding for the Richmond County Program.
While we do not receive funding we are required to follow the Food Bank guild lines set forth by the State of North Carolina. We must provide safe, reliable food. The State requires that any child added to the program must be provided for throughout the entire school year. Adding a child and then removing them from the program is just more heartache added to a Childs already trying situation.
Our parent partner, Helping Hands of Hamlet Inc. has a 501.(c).3 charitable status.
You can support the Richmond County Backpack pals program in a number of ways. The program welcomes volunteer packing teams. You can have a food drive for Backpack food items. We are also grateful for any financial support to use for food.
The Backpack Pals program provides weekend food for the children which is certainly an important part of their well being. The Backpack Pals program also shows these children that someone cares. I can only image the smile that crosses that child’s face each Friday.