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United Way honors Liberty County's Backpack Buddies
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Liberty Countys Backpack Buddies members celebrate after receiving the Spirit of Volunteering award during United Way of the Coastal Empires annual meeting and awards luncheon April 6 in Savannah. - photo by Photo provided.

United Way of the Coastal Empire recognized Liberty County’s Backpack Buddies program during the regional organization’s annual meeting and awards luncheon in Savannah.

Backpack Buddies won the Spirit of Volunteering Award. In one year, the program saw 44,000 meals packed for kids by special-education students at Liberty County High School.

"This is the biggest program I am aware of that we have in this area that touches somebody’s hand and needs every single week, consistently," said Jennifer Darsey, area director of United Way in Liberty County, in an article accompanying the award.

The program sends grocery bags to 585 homes each weekend, when school meals are not available.

"Kids who are hungry can’t learn because they have headaches and stomach aches and can’t focus in class," Darsey said. "And that is the reason the program began here."

Every Thursday, the high school students are bused to United Way office to pack the grocery bags. On Wednesdays, women go to the United Way office to lay out the food products by number.

"It’s really a good time to get together and have community to enjoy one another," said Laura Betts, Backpack Buddies volunteer coordinator.

The United Way article says the women who set up the food products get "a sense of community … to give back to the next generation of children whom they feel have immense purpose."

Darsey said the group that makes the deliveries of the grocery bags to schools often return "weeping" and saying, "We fed hungry kids."

Even the high school students’ bus driver has gotten involved. The students affectionately call her "Nana" because her grandson is in their class. While he does not get to participate because he is an epileptic quadriplegic, according to the United Way article, she said, "I look forward to my Thursdays with my Backpackin’ Babies."

"To see the smiles on these kids’ faces and know they are helping somebody else, it’s amazing," the driver said.

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