Child Hunger
5:13 am
Thu June 5, 2014

Churches Fill Backpacks, Feed Thousands in Piedmont

For thousands of Piedmont students, churches and congregations make their weekends easier to face.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina feeds about 5,400 children through 92 BackPack Programs.
Credit dailykos.com

For many youngsters, backpacks transport school books, art projects, clothes and the occasional toy. But for thousands of students in the Piedmont, their backpacks also transport food. According to NoKidHungry.org, during the 2010-2011 academic year, more than 640,000 youth in North Carolina received free or reduced-price lunches. 

In an effort to combat childhood hunger, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina is nurturing partnerships between churches and schools. The organization operates a BackPack Program, a national effort created by Feeding America. It gives children who are nutritionally at risk food they can take home over the weekends during the school year.

"In this county, Forsyth County, we have almost 29,000 children who go to school to eat and they get an education second,"  says Clyde Fitzgerald, executive director of Second Harvest. The non-profit provides food to families in 18 counties, from Caswell and Alamance in the east to Watauga County in the west. "These children participate in the free and reduced lunch program and 90 percent are in the free category, which means their family’s income is at or below the poverty level. For a family of four this year, it is at $23,800 a year."

According to Fitzgerald, Second Harvest operates 92 BackPack Programs in elementary, middle and high schools across its service area. Most are possible because churches are adopting these schools.  "For children to be hungry is something we find hard to accept, we find it offensive," explains Bob Parvin, the pastor of First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. A little more than a year ago, the congregation adopted the students and the staff of Easton Elementary School, off Clemmonsville Road on the South side of Winston-Salem. "We purchase the food from the Second Harvest Food Bank. Then we bring it to the school and it’s distributed to the children by the school," says Parvin.

This is a $10,000 commitment for First Christian Church. Every weekend during the school year, it feeds 50 children at Easton. The student population is about 563 youth and according to Principal Bea Veto, 99 percent benefit from free or reduced priced lunch. "We could add 60-to-80 more bags," says Veto. "But we try to look at the very neediest. We do have parents at the beginning of the year who ask, are we having the backpack program this year." Students at 26 other schools in Forsyth County also benefit from Second Harvest’s BackPack Program. Parvin urges more churches to get involved. "We have many smaller congregations today," says Parvin.  "So several of these congregations can get together and partner and do this as a collaborative effort, maybe an interfaith effort."

This weekend is the last for area school children to receive food through the Second Harvest BackPack Program. To fill in the gap, school systems in several Piedmont counties are hosting free summer feeding programs at numerous schools. They will provide breakfast and lunch Monday-Thursday. In Forsyth County, breakfast will be served between 8:15 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. Lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.