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Backpack Buddies gives kids healthy food
At-risk children get sacks of eats for weekend
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Frank Long Elementary School parent Diana Holcomb and her daughter stuff food into backpacks at the United Way office. The Backpack Buddies program aims to ensure children are fed over the weekend. - photo by File photo

Child hunder by the numbers

66: Percent of Liberty County School System students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

50: Percent of students systemwide who meet the free-lunch criteria. That’s 5,215 of the district’s 10,317 students.

294: Number of Liberty County School System students who receive food through the Backpack Buddies program.

600: Estimated dollars it would cost to adopt 50 students in the Backpack Buddies program.

8: Number of months the Backpack Buddies program has been in operation.

2: Number of healthy meals provided in each food kit.

Thousands of Liberty County residents of all ages are defined as hungry. There are children in this community who have no idea where their next meal is coming from, but there is a community effort working to alleviate that problem.
According to the Liberty County United Way Executive Director Jennifer Darsey, one in every three children in Liberty County lives at or below the poverty level, and hungry families report that they often have to choose between paying for food and other necessities. Additionally, parents who receive food stamps say that it does not always provide a month’s worth of food for their families.
To combat that problem in school-age children, the Liberty County United Way in February helped the school system launch the Backpack Buddies program, which sends at-risk children home on Fridays with two nutritious meals and healthy snacks for the weekend. Students are selected to receive the backpacks by teacher or counselor referral. A permission slip is sent home to the parents before the pack of food is sent home each Friday.
“The foods are all kid-friendly and can be prepared by the child,” Liberty County United Way administrative assistant Kathleen Lancia said. “The Chef Boyardee cans have pop-tops and can be heated by placing them in warm water if they don’t have another means available to them.”
Liberty County has sponsorship for only 294 students in four elementary schools: Liberty Elementary, Joseph Martin, Frank Long and Taylor’s Creek. The Liberty County High School student body sponsors both Liberty Elementary and Joseph
“These kids want to be involved in these types of programs,” Lancia said. “They feel it’s important to help the kids in their own community. They come on Thursdays and pack the bags and deliver them on Fridays.”
Lancia stressed the importance of sponsorship so the remaining elementary schools can benefit from the program. Anyone can become a sponsor.
The backpacks are filled with items such as pull-tab or pop-top Chef Boyardee meal cups, granola bars, juice, cereal, fruit snacks and crackers. The bags contain enough to get students through the weekend and back to school on Monday morning.
“There are a lot of reasons these kids go hungry over the weekend, and it isn’t necessarily because of neglect,” Lancia said. “It helps to alleviate the lethargy and flu-like symptoms on Monday morning that some kids experience that are associated with hunger.”

Ready to help?

The Backpack Buddies program operates on a sponsorship basis. The cost to adopt 50 students would run about $600 per month, according to Frank Long Elementary teacher Sarah Carrier, who, along with Sharon Long, enlisted the United Way’s help to facilitate the program.
To adopt a school, call the United Way at 368-4282 or email

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