“We started two years ago feeding 60 kids in Bartow and Cartersville city, I know without a doubt we serve over 350 kids now in the county and in the city and I’ve heard counselors this year saying, ‘My numbers are growing, my numbers are growing, I need more sponsors,’” Bartow County Homeless Liaison Kelly Whitmire said.
Whitmire said while it is unfortunate the need has grown, she has been overwhelmed with the support of the community.
“I have been amazed, really. When we started the pilot program, we never really imagined that it would grow to this magnitude,” Whitmire said.
The program operates by having churches, Parent Teacher Organizations and community groups each week deliver donated food items to a school in their community based on the BackPack Buddies menu. The items should provide for two breakfast meals, two lunch meals, three dinner meals and two snacks, which could include Ramen noodles, fruit snacks and beanie-weenies.
Whitmire said the menu is a suggestion derived from the national campaign and can be tweaked within the nutritional guidelines, costing about $5 to $7 a child for the weekend.
For the county, the individual schools will place the items in donated backpacks and students identified as being in need of additional nutrition can take the backpacks home with them on Friday and return them on Monday. The Church at the Well packs the bags for the city.
“They may do food drives to get the food, contests within the schools, things like that, so it’s really just a hodgepodge of different community efforts together to pull this thing off,” Whitmire said.
Cartersville Homeless Liaison Paula Womack said she and retired Bartow liaison Eleanor Long came up with the idea about five years ago, but it was delayed due to working on multiple programs to aid children in distress.
“We ended up getting together with Bartow Collaborative and I wrote a grant to the Community Foundation and we were awarded funds to do 30 backpacks in the city and 30 in the county in the fall of 2010 ... and then we were renewed the grant for the spring,” Womack said. “In the meantime, the county was working really hard to get churches to take on their backpacks and the city did the same.”
Community members will have an opportunity to make a donation to the program while enjoying a taste of city and county fair during the 2nd annual Bartow Empty Bowls Project on Sept. 30 at the Cartersville Civic Center. The event will feature handmade bowls by local artists which can be filled with soups from local restaurants for a $20 donation.
For more information on Backpack Buddies, contact Whitmire at 770-382-4548, extension 5326, or Womack at 770-387-4722.