LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — According to estimates, around 25 to 30 percent of all school age children in Laurel County suffer from hunger. These children often have to rely on school meals Monday through Friday and then get little to nothing to eat over the weekend.
In an attempt to combat the hunger problem plaguing local youth, the Backpack Club was created. Since it began in 2004, the program has provided brown paper bags of food, which the children received as they leave school for the weekend.
Despite their best effort, winter weather has caused some major setbacks for the non-profit organization.
“The schools distribute the meals to students as they leave on Fridays,” said Stacy Sheppard, Executive Director of the Backpack Club. “If they’re not at school, then we can’t get the food to them. It’s sad we can’t really do anything about it.”
The club is currently providing weekend meals to approximately 1,200 Laurel County elementary, middle and high school students.
Volunteers meet at 6 p.m. every Wednesday at Faith Assembly of God to pack the bags in an assembly line. It takes them about an hour to pack 1,200 bags.
Children in need of the program are identified and enrolled in the Backpack Club by Family Resource Centers throughout the county. The children that are enrolled pick up their bags every Friday, or the last day of the school week, before going home.
Backpacks include items such as:
• Microwavable Mac ‘n Cheese
• Ramen Noodles
• Single serving vegetables
• Cheese crackers
• Toaster Pastries
• Fruit cups in a plastic container
• Flavored oatmeal packet
• Fruit snacks
• Fresh fruit
• Fruit juice or milk
• Drink mix packet
• Single serving cereal box
• Potato chips
All are things that the kids can fix for themselves without any parental supervision. However, when the students miss school on a Friday due to winter weather, they don’t get the extra food.
Sheppard said the Backpack Club needs help to continue meeting the needs of Laurel County children, despite the harsh winter this year.
Although it is impossible for them to distribute the 1,200 meals when schools are not in session, the Backpack Club will continue to prepare for their next delivery.
To function optimally, the club needs a total of about 35 volunteers at each event. Financial donations are also accepted. Backpacks cost about $2.50 each to fill, totaling $115,500 in annual food donations to local children.
To make a donation to the Backpack Club, mail donations to The Backpack Club at The Backpack Club Inc., 390 Faith Assembly Church Road, London, Ky., 40741.
For more information about volunteer opportunities, call Sheppard at (606) 682-0848.