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Backpack Buddies still providing food

Even with the pandemic, Backpack Buddies of Poplarville is ensuring Poplarville children are fed over the weekends and during spring break.

Backpack Buddies of Poplarville distributes meals from the Poplarville First United Methodist Church. The next meal pickup will be Wednesday April 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Normally the group meets on Thursdays and delivers to the schools, but with the pandemic, the nonprofit adjusted its schedule to match school Grab and Go delivery times in an effort to reduce the number of outings that families have to make.

Every week the organization provides meals to children in the Poplarville School District who may not have access to food during the weekend. The 501 (c)(3) nonprofit is in its sixth year of providing food to children in the District. The work is funded entirely through donations, which costs $22,000 to provide meals for an entire school year.

The bags of food include 10 items to ensure the children have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for a weekend.

With school closures and the necessity for social distancing, the nonprofit has had to be more creative in how it gets food to children, said organizer Carol Williams.

The group made sure that the three volunteers distributing the food are not in populations considered high risk for COVID-19. Still, none of the volunteers want to get sick or spread illness, so they suit up with masks and gloves.

Parents drive up to a long table and let one of the volunteers know how many children they need food for. Then the bags of food are placed on the table, where parents can pick them up without ever leaving their vehicle.

In preparation for spring break, the group gave out more food than normal so families would have enough to eat over the school holiday. They also included an Easter bag with eggs and candy, said Williams.

“Anytime there’s a holiday, we do something like that for them and the little ones are so excited,” she said.

Figuring out a contactless delivery method for the food was only one of the problems that needed to be solved. Ordering food during a pandemic has also been a challenge, said Williams.

“We’re feeding 137 kids a week, so it’s not like we can just go in a store and buy that,” said Williams.

The group normally places orders from grocery stores to buy in bulk. However, in March many of the products volunteers tried to order were unavailable.

Greer’s CashSaver in Poplarville stepped in and agreed to order the products on the nonprofit’s behalf.

Another challenge is getting the word out to families who normally rely on Backpack Buddies.

Recipients are anonymous, which means volunteers cannot simply email or call parents and let them know that food is still available for pickup. Instead the organization is putting information out on its Facebook page, but Williams worries that people without Internet access may not know that meals are still available. She’s hopeful word of mouth and press coverage will help people learn that the nonprofit is still operating.

Williams is hopeful the challenges are going to be opportunities.

“When you have a recipient that drives up and tells you how much they appreciate it and they have tears in their eyes, you know that you’re doing this for the right reasons,” she said.

For more information on the Backpack Buddies of Poplarville people can email backpackbuddiesofpoplarville@gmail.com or contact Williams at 601-549-2187.