Back-to-School: Chesterfield faith and community groups partner with schools to feed students

By Gena Lashley

As parents head out the door to start buying the endless amount of supplies necessary for their little darlings to start the school year, the air is charged with the excitement of the impending school year. Most kids have already started to complain about being bored, and the heat and humidity of August have sucked the very last drop of fun out of summer. What most of us tend to forget is that for many children in our community, school not only offers a shelter of knowledge and friendship, but also the comfort of a full belly.  

When the bell rings on the last day of school, kids shriek with excitement and parents start packing beach towels, sunscreen and endless juice boxes into their minivans, beach-bound on hot days. Unfortunately for many, summer is not so fun. Their bellies are hungry and they are unsure of where their next meal is coming from. School was the one place where they knew they would receive two hot meals a day.

With school starting back up, the weekdays are taken care of, children are fed and happy, but what about the weekends? Chesterfield County Public Schools offers a Backpack Ministry Program. Carrie Coyner, Bermuda District school board representative, started the Backpack Ministry Program in 2012, “I saw a really high need in the Bermuda District and wanted to do something about it.”  The Backpack Ministry Program partners a faith community or a community organization with a local school. There are no income requirements for families to participate in the Backpack program. Their teachers and/or guidance counselors identify students. Parents must sign a permission slip for their children to take part in the program.  The school provides the partnering organization with the number of backpacks needed and the partner then provides the backpacks packed and ready to go weekly.  Coyner adds, “By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, every school had a partner that supplied them with backpacks.”  Every school in Chesterfield County is eligible to participate in the Backpack Ministry Program, however, the need for partnering organizations is great.

Currently, Bermuda Hundred UMC, Chester Baptist, Chester Christian, Chester Presbyterian, Chester UMC, and Enon Baptist Churches are fulfilling the needs of seven elementary schools in the Bermuda district by filling backpacks each week. The backpacks are filled with the following: three dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, two to three juice boxes (or boxed milk), two to three healthy snacks (raisins, granola bars, nabs etc).

Dr. Lloyd Braswell of Chester Baptist Church (a participating faith community) says, “The backpack program is a great way to help local children who experience hunger.

We often think of hunger in other places of the world.  We need to realize it is also a problem that is all around us.” He adds, “ Being involved in the Backpack program has been good for our church.  We have several individuals and groups that participate.  I enjoy being able to drop the Backpacks off at Ecoff Elementary School weekly.  The guidance counselor, Mrs. Bass-Gonzalez, as well as others leaders of the school are very helpful and appreciative.” 

According to Coyner, “ Just last week I met with the Bermuda District principals and the need is going to be even greater this year. We are going to require even more partners. It may be a situation where we need more than one partner per school.” She adds, “ Partners can collaborate with each other to help cover the schools. Last year, while all schools had partners, they could not cover all students and some were still on a waiting list and that just breaks my heart.”

If you are a faith community or a community organization and would like to partner with a school, please contact Carrie Coyner at ce_coyner@ccpsnet.net or call 804-839-7117. If you would like to donate food to a Backpack Ministry Program, please contact one of the churches listed in the article.

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