“Every single one of them has this element to them. It was like a strength, like a survivor,” Lowe said. “They would look you right in the eye and tell you thank you.”
The Sac Pac coordinator said, “Those kids are strong. They have something other — more advantaged — children do not. It is a knowing. It is an understanding.”
Sac Pac is a feeding program offered to several Bradley County elementary schools through The Caring Place. The program initially began with Waterville, Black Fox and Valley View.
It has since grown through donations to include Charleston, Park View, North Lee, Oak Grove and Taylor for a total of eight elementary schools.
Teachers suggest students who they believe are in need of the food packs. Each sack contains enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches or dinners, two gummy snacks, two granola bars, two shelf stable milks, microwaveable macaroni and cheese and two juice boxes.
The food is meant to make weekends easier on economically disadvantaged children.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the population estimate for Bradley County in 2012 was 101,134. Of the total population, 22.5 percent were under 18 years of age. This means there were an estimated 22,755 youth in 2012.
Lowe said 24.1 percent of children in Bradley County have low access to food. This roughly translates to 1 in 4 children in the county.
According to the Bureau’s results, this is about 5,688 youth who were food insecure in 2012. In other words, there were more than 5,000 children who did not know the source of their next meal.
“I was born and raised in Cleveland and I don’t think many people in this county and city realize the level of poverty in Cleveland,” Lowe said. “It is very real.”
She described certain places in the county as food deserts.
“Food deserts are areas where residents lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, whole grains and other foods that make up a healthy diet,” Lowe explained. “Food deserts can be rural or urban. They are places where the nearest food market is too far away for the residents to shop, either because of distance involved or due to lack of transportation.”
Added Lowe, “Several of the schools we service are at 75 percent or above free and reduced-lunch students.”
Currently 425 students receive Sac Pacs every Friday afternoon. Every white paper bag is kept in as good a condition as possible. Each one is closed with a “Because Jesus Loves You” sticker.
Principals and teachers are asked to make the distribution as inconspicuous as possible.
Surveys completed by the teachers at the end of the 2012-13 school year showed their overall appreciation for the program.
“We’ve seen children hoarding food from the cafeteria and snacks provided during class. We can only assume they are being hoarded for home when they may not have food available,” Lowe said. “Thank you for providing healthy snacks. Hopefully eating good food will foster healthy eating.”
The program was originally funded through a 5-year descending grant awarded by the United Way of Bradley County.
Lowe explained TCP is very careful about expanding beyond its financial limitations with the program.
“We would rather help the numbers we have now than to spread ourselves too thin and take something away,” Lowe said. “We don’t want this to once again be something that is unstable in these children’s lives.”
Sponsoring a child for an entire school year costs $220. The costs can also be broken down by $20 a month or $5 a week. According to these numbers, it costs $2,125 each week to feed the 425 students.
This is not taking into account the gas used each week to drop off the 425 packs at the seven different schools.
Lowe supplements the budget with donations from the community as the United Way grant decreases. Many community partners, like churches, businesses and individuals, have worked hard to provide the needed funds to encourage growth and stability in the program.
Volunteers like Elaine Samples and Wayne Record volunteer each week to pack and drop off the bags.
“I get paid to do what I do. I’ve never been hungry. I have been fortunate to never live in a poverty situation,” Lowe said. “I am humbled and honored just to be a part of this. Reba [Terry], and the people who have gone before me, we are all just doing what we have been called to do.”
More information about the Sac Pac program can be found by emailing Lowe at email@example.com or calling 423-715-3458.