The United Way held its annual Backpack Buddy appreciation celebration Thursday at the Liberty County Board of Education Performing Arts Center in Flemington.
Pizza, cupcakes and fun were had by all as the LIFE skills and special-education student volunteers were given certificates of appreciation for their service and support of the Backpack Buddy program.
Backpack Buddies, which launched in February 2012, provides weekend meals for children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — children who otherwise might not have anything to eat on Saturdays or Sundays. The student volunteers pack the food bags every Thursday to be sent home with qualifying children on Friday afternoon.
“We’ve been going strong every Thursday since last year,” special-education teacher Corbin Stripling said. “Every kid has a specific item they put in a bag, and they pass them down and run them through, and the adults come through and check them at the end to make sure they have everything. They usually do 400 in about an hour and a half. We do enough for every middle school and every elementary school.”
According to Jennifer Darsey, director of the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Liberty office, the volunteers packed 42,000 meals in 10 months.
“We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” Darsey said. “You have made a huge difference in the lives of children in this community.”
Student volunteers ate pizza, danced and enjoyed fellowship with United Way staff, teachers and parents before accepting certificates from board member Anthony Burns and Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya S. Lee.
“The Backpack Buddy program is intended to give kids meals through the weekend to improve their concentration and attention so that when they get there on Monday morning, they’re ready to go, they’re ready to learn, ready to perform, and they’re ready to succeed,” Burns said.
“The food comes in on a truck, it’s emptied at the door there in the office on a palette, and it wouldn’t get any further if it weren’t for your volunteer efforts,” Burns told the student volunteers. “Thank you, from all of us in this room, for what you do.”