ENGLEWOOD — St. David’s Episcopal Church is launching its new backpack ministry to feed needy children at Englewood Elementary School.
Preparations will begin Oct. 3 at the church’s new Jubilee Center.
‘We’re going to be starting with 96 families,’ said Pat Knox, an outreach minister at the church. ‘That’ll probably increase as we get donations. We’ll be looking for people to sponsor the children.’
It costs $89 to sponsor a child. The cost will cover food over the weekend for the duration of the school year.
Response to the program has been outstanding, said Mark Grossenbacher, Englewood Elementary principal.
‘Last year, we were able to partner up with the program and, with that, we’re able to serve quite a few families each week and other children within their family. It’s very nice,’ he said.
The program has served 60 to 80 families consistently into 2012.
‘The program is overwhelming, you know, greatly appreciated,’ Grossenbacher said. ‘Families in need, they appreciate having child-friendly meals. Children in the family have something to eat each weekend.’
Each backpack contains a variety of nutritious food including breakfast items, fruit, vegetables and snacks.
‘Pat Knox and her group at St. David’s are absolutely phenomenal,’ said Jill Collins, director of nutrition at All Faiths Food Bank. ‘They’ve been very active in the outreach and hunger initiatives in their community before they started this particular program.’
Collins started a backpack program in 2008 and is now part of a nationwide initiative, the Feeding America network with more than 200 food banks serving more than 1,500 children.
All Faiths Food Bank relies on the vigilance of parents and schools to keep an eye out for potential food allergies, Collins said.
‘Because we have so many children in the program right now, we can’t necessarily do dietary and allergy-friendly bags, but what we have done over the years is (eliminate) all the pork products for religious and ethical reasons,’ Collins said. ‘We do put a notice in the bags at the beginning of the school year about allergies and the fact that we do not guarantee that certain items won’t be in the bag.’
All Faiths Food Bank has 25 schools on board with the program in Sarasota and DeSoto counties. Food for the program comes from purchases and assistance from the United States Food and Drug Administration.
‘We do purchase some (of the food),’ Collins said. ‘We really do need it to be in large quantities and we try to source out kid-friendly, easy-open, nutritious food. The USDA then provides some of the other food, really free of cost to us as a food bank and the USDA buys the surplus food from the farmers and then distributes it to food banks, schools and prisons. So a lot of that stuff is the light canned fruit, low sodium canned vegetables, canned tuna, canned chicken, that type of product.’
St. David’s Episcopal Church is located on 401 S. Broadway. Go to http://www.stdavidsenglewood.org or call 941-474-3140.