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Backpack Buddies needs community’s support

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By Jody McGrath

Did you know that 47 percent or approximately 3,800 Anderson County children receive free or reduced school meals? Did you ever wonder what those children eat on the weekends?
We do. We are Anderson County Backpack Buddies, a tax-exempt, non-profit organization that helps feed those children on the weekends.
 Anderson County Backpack Buddies began in the 2004-2005 school year when one person read an article and decided that something should be done. She brought her vision to First Christian Church. After meeting with the Anderson County School Family Resource personnel, her vision was realized.
We began with four volunteers and served two schools with 6-8 backpacks per week. We now have more than 50 volunteers, serve all six public schools, and deliver as many as 225 bags of food per week. Did you see “Kate Plus 8”? They toured and did a fundraiser for an East Tennessee program just like ours! Also, Coach Cal and his basketball Cats worked at God’s Pantry last winter to pack backpacks for the same type of program in Fayette County.
 So what exactly do we do? The easy answer is we send home a bag of food each Friday with children who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend due to poverty or neglect.  
The real answer is a little more complicated. We begin by ordering pickup truck loads of food from God’s Pantry in Lexington or Save-A-Lot here in town. Both resources enable us to buy caseloads of food for much less than other places.
Through our partnership with God’s Pantry we are able to purchase shelf stable milk, get free food when they have a surplus, and occasionally get awarded a grant from one of their participating organizations. Our partnership with Save-A-Lot allows us to get good prices on cases of canned goods and the helpful people there place our order on a separate pallet so we can back up the truck and load easily.
 The cases of food are picked up by volunteers and transported to First Christian Church. Then a menu for the weekend is determined, making sure the bag is not too heavy for a 5-year-old and that it contains as much protein as possible. If it is going to be a long weekend, for example Labor Day weekend, we plan for a little extra.
 At the beginning of each week, we consult with the schools to see how many bags they need that week. One of our 13 packing teams packs the needed bags full of food. An additional five volunteers deliver the food each week to the schools where the Family Resource personnel distribute the food in an anonymous manner.
In addition to our more than 75 volunteers, we have manygenerous donors. Each bag of food costs about $5, which means the weekly cost is about $1,000. Some of our generous volunteers and donors are: First Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church, Sand Spring Baptist Church, Anderson Christian Church, Lewis Financial Services, Pangemanan Chiropractic, Boy and Girl Scout troops, Cub Scout dens, E.B. Ward Elementary (Empty Bowls project), the Anderson County Schools Cafeteria personnel, and many others.
With more than 75 volunteers and 225 children in need, this is no longer a small anonymous mission.
Anderson County Backpack Buddies is now a community endeavor and we would like to invite everyone to participate. If you would like to volunteer, please contact me at 839-4532. If you would like to donate food items, bring them to First Christian Church, 300 S. Main St., Lawrenceburg. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, send it to Anderson County Backpack Buddies c/o Lewis Financial Services, 1048 Eagle Lake Dr. For $5 a week, you can keep a child from going hungry.

Jody McGrath is the president of the Anderson County Backpack Buddies Board.