(This is the first in a series detailing the programs receiving United Way of Bradley County grants for 2012 made possible through the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund)
It is hard to believe, but there are children in Bradley County who depend on school breakfasts and lunches for the majority, if not all, of their meals. On the weekends, these meals are not available, and many children go hungry until Monday mornings.
Reba Terry, executive director of the Caring Place, deals with families seeking food assistance every day.
She said knowing there are children who are not receiving adequate nutritious meals breaks her heart.
Now, she and others with the Caring Place, through a United Way of Bradley County grant provided through the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund, are doing what they can to help these children have food throughout the weekend.
They are providing food through a “Sack Pack” program.
“I learned about the Sack Pack program from the Chattanooga Food Bank, where we purchase most of the food that we distribute, and loved it from the very beginning,” Terry said.
“I thought that this is just the coolest thing and I hoped that one day we could do that.”
Terry said she and a couple of Caring Place Board members began studying the program and collecting data they could use to seek a grant to implement a similar program. She made a proposal to the United Way’s Community Investment Team, which is the group that has approved BMHEF grants the past four years.
“We met with (the Bradley County Schools’) June McDonald to determine what the need was in our county,” Terry said.
“In developing a new program we chose Bradley County Schools because two city schools are already participating in a Sack Pack program.”
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church is working with a Sack Pack program with the Cleveland City School system.
“We identified the schools by the percentage of students on the free and reduced lunches,” Terry explained.
Those schools, identified last March, were Valley View Elementary School, Black Fox Elementary School, and Blue Springs Elementary School.
However, when Blue Springs Elementary School was destroyed by the April 27 tornadoes, Waterville Community Elementary School was chosen as the third school in the program.
The next step was determining how many sacks the Caring Place could put together for children based on the amount of the grant, should it be approved. They settled on 200 sacks.
The United Way’s Community Investment Team approved the grant for 2012, and it began to be implemented this weekend.
Each sack is placed in the backpack of a student who has been identified at-risk of not having food for the weekend.
“We don’t decide who the students are,” said Terry. “That is done by the counselors, and the teachers, the principals at these schools who can identify a child who is at risk of hunger.”
She added these children do not have to be on the free and reduced lunch program. Parents whose children have been earmarked to receive a sack pack have also received a letter about the program, and can opt-out if they wish.
The packs will be placed in their backpacks while they are on recess or at lunch, Terry explained so it will be done discretely.
Gwen Evans has been hired as the coordinator of the program. She will be writing the orders each week to get the food to the Caring Place so volunteers can package the sacks to be delivered to the three schools either on Thursdays or early Friday. The sacks can then be put in the backpacks of students on Friday afternoons.
The packs will contain at least two entrees, such as Beanee Weenees, chili with beans, or some similar item with meat included. They will all be pop-top items, easy to eat, and all nutritious,” Terry said.
She added, “They will also receive two containers of shelf-life milk, two containers of 100 percent juice, a can of fruit, two cans of vegetables, a granola bar, and other nutritious items … between 10 and 15 items which will vary according to what we get from the food bank.”
Terry explained on weeks where the children are on spring break, they will receive two sacks in the backpacks. The program does not operate during the summer break, so Terry will suggest that those on the program acquaint themselves with summer feeding programs in the area and take advantage of these special programs.
McDonald, who serves as assistant with the Coordinated Schools Health program through the Bradley County Schools, said she is excited about the program.
“We all know that if we are hungry, we don’t function to our fullest potential and that applies definitely to the kids,” she said, “and it is so important for them to be focused on their education and schoolwork.
“But to think that there are children who do not have any substantial food for the weekend, then being able to provide this to them through this program is a blessing, and we appreciate Reba and her group for making this possible,” she added.
Patrick Long, United Way’s vice president of Community Impact, agreed.
“While sending food home with students on the weekend meets their immediate needs, this program has the potential to have a significant, long-term impact on the children and families that participate,” he said.
“Research consistently indicates that not having adequate nutrition puts children at risk of illness as well as negatively effects cognitive and behavioral development.
“It is our hope and expectation that students who come to school with full stomachs will be more ready to actively participate in the learning process,” he added.
“We are really excited about partnering with the Caring Place to provide nutritious food to children who need it.”
Terry said she is so thankful for the United Way grant to help get this program started.
“ I dreamed the Caring Place could begin a Sack Pack Program, but I was uncertain as to where the funds would come from,” she said. “
In the spring of 2011 our board of directors and I discussed the possibility of submitting a grant to the Bradley Health Endowment Fund, and I’m so glad we decided to apply. I want to thank all involved in approving our proposal, because I know the program will make a big difference for the 200 children who will be assisted by it.”
She also wanted to thank Café Roma for providing sporks for each of the sack packs, and the students at the Trousdale School for volunteering to help package the utensils and napkins for the packs.
To find out more about the Sack Pack Program at the Caring Place, or to volunteer to help pack the bags, contact Reba Terry or Gwen Evans at 472-4414.