The Garner Mid-Day Rotary Club has expanded its Backpack Buddies program to two more schools in Garner this year with the help of some special friends.
Backpack Buddies is a nationwide program that provides a weekend’s worth of food for elementary students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The program will now serve seven schools. Those schools are Timber Drive, East Garner, Aversboro, Creech Road, Vandora Springs and now Vance and Smith elementary schools.
The only school the program doesn’t serve is Rand Road Elementary which has its own program.
“The rationale is that these kids are all getting free or reduced breakfast lunch at school, but they come to the weekend and may not have food,” said Mary Cook, a retired teacher and one of the coordinators for the program.
Those doing the packing are the adults at Able to Serve. Able to Serve is a day program that serves adults with special needs. The partnership was two-fold. Storing the food at Creech Road had become a problem, and they needed a bigger space, which would ultimately be Lord of Life. Able to Serve’s program is housed in Lord of Life Church. And the program helped teach life skills to Able to Serve clients.
For the past month, the adults have been shopping and packing the food from oatmeal to cereal to rice, canned beans and fruit and milk.
Excitement filled their faces as each person grabbed a food item and, one-by-one, placed it in a bag, as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” by Stevie Wonder played on the radio. They then got in line again and danced on their way to grabbing another food item, and placed that in a bag until more than 50 of the bags were full.
Then they sat down to take a break before filling more bags.
“They are on union break,” Carlton McDaniel Jr., the executive director of Able to Serve, joked. “They really enjoy it. They have a blast.”
John Hodges, the immediate past president of the Garner Mid-Day Rotary Club, said his club had raised more money than in previous years, thus enabling them to expand the program.
This is the eighth year that Rotary club has worked with volunteers at Lord of Life Church for the Backpack Buddies program. It initially started with serving students who were homeless at only two schools.
It costs $325 to feed a child during the school year. Last year, 2,200 meals were packed. With the addition of the new schools, that number is expected to increase.
Much of the money the Rotary club raises is through its annual Bling Gala. The Gala is every November. The club raised a little more than $55,000 at last year’s Bling Gala. Crystal Dempsey, the Bling chairperson, said 82 percent of the funds raised goes to the Backpack Buddies program in Garner, while 18 percent goes to scholarships for students.
“I am amazed that the Garner community just pours out their support for the children,” Dempsey said, “because really the business owners and individuals of this community are who made this possible. We are just the vessel.”
Hodges said the goal is to continue raising at least $55,000 a year to sustain the program.
“Hopefully we can continue doing that because we’ve now got seven schools worth of kids relying on us,” Hodges said.