Big Donation Restores Food Backpacks for Kids, More Help Needed

By Julie Montanaro
September 4, 2014

Yesterday we told you about a 25-thousand dollar donation to try to restore a program that sends backpacks full of food home with hungry children on the weekend.

We discovered today there's more help on the way and it comes from other children.

Children at Springwood Elementary in Tallahassee have been bringing in reusable grocery bags since last week that they intend to donate to Second Harvest.

A fifth grade teacher there saw our story about cutbacks to the backpack program and asked staff and students to help.

"Making sure that all of the kids have feels good because...I'm not sure what it feels like to be that hungry but I am sure it's not that great," fifth grader Hollie Gallagher said.

"I think that the other children will appreciate it very much so that they won't starve every weekend," fifth grader Symaria Randolph said.

The folks at Springwood Elementary have collected about 250 bags so far. They plan to deliver them next week.

By Julie Montanaro
September 3, 2014

Children who count on a backpack full of food each week may go home empty handed.

We first told you about cutbacks to the popular program two weeks ago.

Within minutes of airing that story, one of our viewers offered to help and he's challenging others to do the same.

Every child at this Tallahassee elementary school receives free lunch during the week. More than 100 of them were counting on taking home a backpack full of food each Friday to ensure they have enough to eat over the weekend too.

Yet Second Harvest recently slashed the backpack program - down to just 15 students here - because it had run out of reusable grocery bags in which to pack the food.

Rick Kearney, CEO of Mainline Information Systems, couldn't stomach the thought of that.

"I was watching the evening news on WCTV and I saw that these kids were not going to get their backpacks this year unless somebody stepped up and they were so desperate they couldn't even afford the bags to put the food in," Kearney said. "So I talked to my management team at Mainline and Summit East and we said, let's do this."

Kearney emailed Second Harvest within five minutes of seeing the story on our newscast.

Wednesday, Kearney presented the food bank with a check for 25-thousand dollars. It's earmarked for the backpack program and will allow Second Harvest to restore the program for 50% of the children who need it.

"So this means I get to call those schools back and say surprise, we get to add more bags to your school this year," program coordinator Rachel Mohler said.

The backpack program helps hundreds of children in five counties by sending home bags full of macaroni and cheese, vegetables, tuna and more every Friday.

The folks at Mainline and Summit East say they hope this donation will motivate others to step up to the plate and help put food on the table on Saturdays and Sundays.

"Our hope was to contribute about half of the shortfall," Kearney said. "If the other half can be completed by the rest of the community, I think it's a big victory for Leon and surrounding counties."

The backpack program helps children in Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Taylor and Jackson counties.

By Julie Montanaro
August 21, 2014

Children who count on a backpack full of food to make it through the weekend could be sent home empty-handed.

Second Harvest says it has run out of of reusable bags and may have to cut back or eliminate its popular program if it doesn't get help soon.

Students at Riley Elementary School lined up Thursday for their choice of fish nuggets or grilled cheese.

All of them receive free lunches during the school week and more than 100 of them receive a backpack full of food to take home on Friday to be sure they have enough to eat over the weekend.

"It's really needed," said Riley Principal Karwynn Paul. "You know a lot of our families at our schools are struggling with the economy with the way that it is and they are not able to provide the necessary meals each day."

That's why it came as such a shock when the principal discovered Second Harvest - which provides the bags full of food - may have to cut the program down to as few as 15 students and that's just at Riley Elementary.

The bags go home each week with 835 students in five counties: Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Taylor and Jackson. This week they're filled with kid-friendly foods like milk, macaroni and cheese, green beans and pop tarts.

Samantha McClellan runs the backpack program for Second Harvest. She says its supply of those reusable grocery bags ran out over the summer - and the plastic bags it is trying to use now - simply can't hold up.

"It's in jeopardy because of these bags. We really, really need reusable bags," McClellan said. "With these bags, they do bust apart."

Second Harvest is hoping citizens, businesses or retailers will donate new, reusable grocery bags to make sure the backpack program doesn't go bust . They need thousands of bags to make it through the school year and try to ensure that there are no grumbling tummies on Saturdays and Sundays.

For more information on how you can help, call Second Harvest at (850) 562-3033.

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