Wesley Memorial's Sack Pack program is helping feed hungry kids

By GWEN SWIGER

Posted 11/25/17

“The idea of kids hungry eats at my soul,” noted Diane Whittle, chair of the Sack Pack program at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

The goal of the Sack Pack program is “to help children move toward positive achievement by meeting the needs of hunger and nutrition.”

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Wesley Memorial's Sack Pack program is helping feed hungry kids

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“The idea of kids hungry eats at my soul,” noted Diane Whittle, chair of the Sack Pack program at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. 

The goal of the Sack Pack program is “to help children move toward positive achievement by meeting the needs of hunger and nutrition.”

With the assistance of community and church volunteers, the Wesley Sack Pack program is making a difference in children’s lives.

While the Wesley program was originally just for Blythe-Bower, Arnold and Stuart Elementary and Yates Primary, they have added Cleveland Middle School and Goal Academy. 

“The children we have been feeding have graduated into the middle school, but they still need food,” Whittle said.

“We put small containers of food in them, because these are small children taking it home. We don’t need a big weight or bulk for them to carry,” she said.

During the holidays, they put extra items in the bags. It depends on what they have in stock, she said.

“If I had to live on what we give these children — I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It breaks my heart that some do not have anything on the weekend.”

She noted many of the children are from homes that “can’t seem to catch a break.” Demographics show 47 percent of the children live in two-parent households with at least one parent working outside the home. Twenty-seven percent have both parents working. However, 39 percent of the families have income levels of $10K; 27 percent earn $10 to $19K; and 22 percent earn $20 to $30K.

The education level was the telling point with the families. While 30 percent had a high school diploma, 20 percent only had an eighth-grade education and 15 percent had earned a GED. 

“We got a bunch of letters from the children. I was surprised at the number of kids said they would share their Sack Packs,” she noted. “They are hungry and they share. I will do whatever I can to keep helping these kids."

Whittle said teachers have said there is a change of attendance and the way the kids study. “The idea of kids without and hungry eats at my soul," she added. "I will do whatever I can to help them.”

The Wesley Memorial program was started 10 years ago under the leadership of Chris Rouse, associate pastor. Since he was involved with so many other programs, Whittle volunteered to chair the program.

“It was his ‘baby’ from the start,” she said. “We have been doing it for a long time. I took over the chairmanship of the project a year ago."

She said one of the duties of the chairman is to find sponsors and donations to purchase the food that goes into the Sack Packs. Without those contributions, the program could not supply the needs of the youngsters.

Whittle said she has a “lady who applied for grants” and others who help get sponsors. The program recently received $500 from a VEC grant. They have also been given funds from the Holston Conference and United Way of the Ocoee Region. 

The bulk of their funds comes from contributions.

“We are encouraging people to give monthly contributions — if it’s just $10. If you had 200 people giving you $10 a month, you could just about pay for the Sack Packs,” she said.

Whittle tries to order food once a month from the food bank in Chattanooga. They stock up on the food items. She does not order more often, because it costs gas money for the delivery trucks to bring the food. 

On Wednesdays at 6 p.m., they pack the food into containers in about 40 minutes. 

“It’s an awesome crew,” Whittle said of her packers. They range in age from 2 to 94.

“Everyone has their place,” she said. Like a production line, everyone puts an item in the bag and it goes on.

“We have a 2-year-old who is helping. We set him up on a chair, and he puts things in the bags,” she said.

A high school senior, who is a dual high school and college student, does much of the heavy moving for the packers.

Wesley Memorial volunteers pack 373 bags every week. After the bags are packed, they put them in totes for the different schools.

“I’ve got five or six different drivers who will come in and drive the totes to the schools on Thursday,” Whittle said.

“We put all our bags in plastic totes, because they hold up better than the juice boxes. I don’t have quite enough totes right now. I could not get all the bags in the totes to get them to the schools,” she said.

She said Wal-Mart, Publix and Target gave gift cards last year that were used to purchase the totes. However, they will “not last forever,” she said. They need donations to help with the totes as well as the food. 

To donate to the Wesley Memorial Sack Pack program online, visit wesleymemorialchurch.com to sign-up to give monthly or one-time contributions. You may also like Wesley’s Facebook to stay aware of fundraisers.

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