Bac Pac Program feeds hungry children

HELPING HANDS: Cecillia Byrd Richards and her daughter Aubrey pull together as a family as they work on the Bac Pac program with Cecillia's mother and other volunteers.  Jodi Marze | Item photo

HELPING HANDS: Cecilia Byrd Richards and her daughter Aubrey pull together as a family as they work on the Bac Pac program with Cecilia’s mother and other volunteers.
Jodi Marze | Item photo

 

Cecilia Byrd Richards and Lil Chamel are preparing for the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year by collecting donations for the Backpack Program in the Picayune School District.

The organization provides food-filled backpacks for elementary children in need, which go home with them each Friday.

Food items packed into the backpacks include pudding cups, juice packs, fruit cups, breakfast bars, granola bars, fruit snacks, oatmeal, grits, pop tarts, cereal boxes, animal crackers, Goldfish crackers, cheese crackers, peanut butter crackers, potted meat, Vienna sausage, ramen noodles, Kraft Easy Mac and raisins or other dried fruit.

Byrd said the program is operated by volunteers and 100 percent funded through community support.

Chamel said that throughout the 33 weeks of the past school year, 4,752 backpacks were filled with food and sent home with children to provide for their nutritional needs through the weekend.

“This program is so important because through working in the schools as a social worker, I know that children come to school without being fed and leave knowing they will not eat once they get home,” Richards said.

With a poverty level in Pearl River County of up to 22 percent, Richards added it should not come as a surprise that there are children in the county dependent on school meals.

Chamel said the program costs approximately  $16,000 to $17,000 annually to operate. The women work closely with school personnel to make sure that children who make the list are the most in need.

Chamel said the program is in dire need of community support.

“Community groups or members can either sponsor a child for $115.50 which is tax deductible, or they can hold food drives,” Chamel said.

In March, MeLinda’s Fine Gifts held a food drive and offered customers who brought in a donation a discount towards their purchase of the day.

Melinda Vitale Shaw, owner of MeLinda’s, said that the program provides a valuable service to children in the community.

Shaw, an avid foodie and cooking enthusiast, is a firm believer in the importance of nutrition for child development.

“Many of the families in our community are having a difficult time making ends meet,” Shaw said. “Children, from all walks of life, are leaving school on Friday and returning on Monday extremely hungry and weak, for whatever the reason. Many only have school for a main source of their nutrition. That just saddens my soul.”

Chamel and Richards would like to include additional Picayune elementary schools in their program, should additional funding become available.

“The program hinges on community support and volunteer availability,” Richards said. “We need all of the help we can get.”

For more information on the program, contact Lillian Chamel at First United Methodist Church at 601-798-4321.

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