Backpack Buddies aids hungry kids
They could just write a check to the Lowcountry Food Bank and call it a day.
But members of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Anson Street do more than send money. They run the food bank's only off-site packing facility. It's a small operation, but it's a start, and something other churches might consider doing, said Tiffany Silverman, project coordinator and member of St. Stephen's.
The initiative is part of the food bank's Backpack Buddies program, an effort designed to furnish public school students from low-income families with supplemental food. The goods, nonperishables that require no cooking or special tools such as can openers, come in backpacks delivered every Friday during the school year.
Silverman said the Backpack Buddies program targets schools that have a 75 percent or greater participation rate in the district's reduced-price lunch program.
About a dozen people gathered in Stephen's Hall at the parish to prepare nearly 400 bags of food. The group meets once a month, Silverman said. Sometimes they include nonfood items, such as coloring books, Easter baskets, greeting cards or school supplies. Thirty children at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School benefit from St. Stephen's outreach effort.
The food bank has the capability of providing food to additional children, but a limited number of volunteers and limited distribution can make it difficult. That's where the off-site packaging comes in, Silverman said.
"The more people are doing more things, the more kids are going to get fed. It's as simple as that," she said. "This is a unique way to bring the best of the food bank and the best of volunteering together."
The volunteers lined either side of a long table, boxes of food laid out on its surface. As they made their way from person to person, the plastic bags filled up. Iris Carson kept count. After an hour's effort, the group produced 384 bags ready to be loaded into backpacks.
The Rev. David Williams, St. Stephen's rector, said the church works with five community service organizations, forming partnerships that enable church members to target their outreach efforts and witness the good it does. In addition to the food bank, the church assists the Magdalene House, Florence Crittenton Program of South Carolina, Star Gospel Mission and the Charleston Area Senior Center.
The congregation sets aside the loose cash offering each Sunday for its partners, Williams said. Twice per year, representatives of each community organization, along with those they serve, are invited to attend Sunday morning worship and receive a disbursement. This way, church members get to see the people at the other end of the church ministries.
"This puts a face on outreach," Williams said.
Erin Fisher, program manager at the food bank, said the Backpack Buddies program started in September 2006. About 75 children at a school in Beaufort received a full backpack each Friday.
Today, the program benefits 1,100 children at 19 schools, Fisher said. Despite additional need, the food bank reached its capacity to administer the program, she said. "That's why we started looking for volunteers."
Fisher said the food bank would like to expand the program to include summertime distributions, but the logistics are challenging. The need is often greater: Students are not in school to receive lunches, and food can be scarcer at home because of other priorities, such as energy bills, and working parents are not around to prepare meals. Yet, summer is when food aid distribution is often disrupted, she said.
Three of the volunteers filling up bags last Saturday morning were children: 11-year-old twins Alex and Jacob Austin and Jackson, Tiffany Silverman's 3-year-old son. Silverman said the work was a good opportunity to teach life lessons.
"What are you doing today?" she asked Jackson, who was not shy.
"Packing," he answered, to the point.
"Packing what?" Silverman prompted.
"Packing food for hungry children," the 3-year-old said.