North Raleigh News

Rolesville High School fights hunger with backpack program

Rolesville High School juniors, from left, Missel DeLeon, Victoria Aue and Toke Lojede select items from donations in the school food pantry to fill backpacks for homeless students to pick up later.
Rolesville High School juniors, from left, Missel DeLeon, Victoria Aue and Toke Lojede select items from donations in the school food pantry to fill backpacks for homeless students to pick up later. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Every Friday about 11 a.m., a group of Rolesville High School students goes to a windowless room near the cafeteria. The room is full of instant noodles, canned foods and as many as 10 backpacks, which the students fill with two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks.

It takes about 15 minutes of their lunch hours.

Later in the day, another set of students will visit their guidance counselor and pick up one of the bookbags full of food to take home. On Monday, they’ll return the bookbag.

At elementary and middle schools, the process is known as Backpack Buddies, which helps students who may not have food at home by sending some along with them.

But Rolesville is the only high school in Wake County that operates Backpack Buddies and one of the few schools that operates the program out of its own building.

Backpack Buddies gives students the food they need when they’re not in school and can’t rely on the breakfast and lunch the school provides. Typically, the program is for younger students but Rolesville administrators and town leaders found there was still a need at the high school level.

“Hunger needs don’t stop in middle school,” said Rolesville High School’s 10th-grade guidance counselor Robert McAuliffe.

Right now, students pack bookbags for about 10 of their peers, McAuliffe said. The school doesn’t make students go through a formal process to receive the food – if McAuliffe or another staff member hears that a family has fallen on hard times, they privately extend the offer to the student’s family.

Each bag comes with enough food to get the student through the weekend, but McAuliffe said he knows many of the students take the food home to share with their families.

There are likely more than 10 students at Rolesville who experience some level of food insecurity. The school has a 43 percent free and reduced lunch rate, higher than the county average of 33 percent.

Rolesville High’s version of Backpack Buddies began with Principal Ericka Lucas and Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles. The two are close friends and when Eagles heard that some students at Rolesville were struggling to have enough food, he asked Lucas if they could do something.

The two pooled their personal money to start building a supply of food and at the beginning of this school year, the National Honor Society, Key Club and the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club took over.

“The students are looking are looking after their fellow students now and that’s really great,” Eagles said.

Students keep track of what food is left and helped organize a schoolwide food drive to stock the closet. On Friday, student volunteers don’t anticipate they’ll need to do another food drive before the end of the school year.

“It’s great to see that people get what they need,” said Victoria Aue, a member of the National Honor Society and FCCLA at Rolesville High.

A project similar to Rolesville’s Backpack Buddies started at Enloe High School in Raleigh in the spring of 2014. The school teamed up with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to create an on-campus food pantry that is open to Enloe students and their families.

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