HOPE’s Backpack Project provides needy kindergarten through fourth grade students meals each Friday to eat over the weekend, but that might all end soon.
HOPE Partners in Health Executive Director Fran Daniel said she is beginning to worry about their financial status for the project and asked Jacksonville citizens to help in the charitable organization’s attempt to save it.
“This is our third year to hold the program after recieving a $27,000 grant,” Daniel said. “We have supplemented the grant with donations in order to ‘stretch out’ the money, but we will be out of money for the Backpack Program by September without more donations from the community.”
Currently, there are 189 children in need who are recieving meals from the program, but more than 25 are on a waiting list due to the scarcity of funds.
“It’s $136 to sponsor a child in the Backpack Project for one school year,” Daniel said. “That provides them two breakfasts and two lunches for the weekends and a backpack to carry the food home in at the end of each week.”
The project is now available at five area elementery schools — East Side, Fred Douglas, Joe Wright, West Side and New Summerfield Elementary — where school couselors select children to be in the program.
“These are the children who return on Mondays and seem extremely hungry in the breakfast line,” Daniel said, “or those who seem very lethargic in class.”
West Side Elementary school counselor Erica Gresham coordinates the program for approximately 40 students at her school.
“At school, we provide the kids with two meals each day: breakfast and luch,” Gresham said. “Over the weekend, some of our kids whose families are stuggling might not get meals two-times a day if they can’t afford them, and this program changes that.”
According to HOPE, food used for the Backpack Project comes from the East Texas Food Bank and is chosen for its nutritional value and sustainability.
“It’s proven that a healthy diet helps children learn better,” Daniel said. “Our surveys done at the end of the school year have shown some extremely positive improvements from this program in a their grades, behavior and ability to concentrate.”
“I have to say that many of our students have improved both behaviorally and emotionally because of the program,” Gresham said. “Just after one weekend you can tell they work better because they are no longer worrying about not having food.”
After seeing the advantages of the Backpack Project first hand, Gresham said she recommends locals donate funds in hopes it will continue one more year.
“The program lets our children know that someone cares about them,” Gresham said. “I feel it’s a great cause for a citizen of Jacksonville to support because it directly helps children here in town. We worry about children being fed overseas, but for the ones in our own town, we should give them what they need over the weekend.”
For more information about the Backpack Project or to donate, call HOPE at 903-586-7781.
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