Backpack programs try to adapt to economy

 SUN PHOTO BY STEVE REILLY    At St. David’s Episcopal Church, Maggie McClellan filled her van with containers of food for 105 needy families with children who attend Englewood Elementary School.

At St. David’s Episcopal Church, Maggie McClellan filled her van with containers of food for 105 needy families with children who attend Englewood Elementary School.

School is back in session for Charlotte and Sarasota county elementary students and backpack food programs are bracing for the increasing demand.

Pat Knox, outreach minister for St. David’s Episcopal Church, has been working with Englewood Elementary School for the backpack program. It sent 124 kids home with backpacks full of food every weekend last school year, she said. Knox worries the numbers might increase this year.

“We’ve ordered 120 (backpacks) and we packed 105 so far,” Knox said. “We order an extra 12 just in case.”

The nutritional selections will be the same as last year, according to Knox.

Selections include light canned fruit, low-sodium canned vegetables, canned tuna and canned chicken, according to director of nutrition Jill Collins of Sarasota-based All Faiths Food Bank, where the church acquires the food.

“We’re going to try at least monthly to put some extra meat in there to be more nutritional,” Knox said. Knox said the cost has increased from $89 to $95 to sponsor a child for the year. “School has more enrolled and the economy changed,” she said. “The working poor are suffering.”

Jolene Mowry is director of Backpack Kidz, which started in 2010 servicing two elementary schools in Charlotte County. Now it services seven of the 10 elementary schools from Englewood to Punta Gorda.

“We’re working on getting the remaining three,” Mowry said. “I won’t pick up another school until we have enough resources.”

Backpack Kidz is part of the Yah Yah Girls, an all-volunteer group that operates as a nonprofit whose mission is to “help the children in our county who might not get the help they need or whose needs slip under the radar,” according to its website,  .

“It costs us $5 per child per backpack, and $160 will feed one child for the school year,” Mowry said.

Mowry said volunteers from all over Charlotte County deliver backpacks to the appropriate schools.

“It’s a community project,” she said. “We have churches and businesses that contribute through fundraising (and) hold events like golf tournaments. We provide 1,400 backpacks weekly.”

Mowry said she spends a lot of time speaking in front of organizations like the Rotary Club.

“I feel very proud of this program,” she said. “We’re giving control of the program to the kids. They take care of the backpacks. If they return to us without the backpack we loan them, we’ll put the food in a plastic bag for them.”

Myakka River Elementary School in Englewood began working with Backpack Kidz in 2011, when it averaged from 160-200 students serviced weekly. Vineland Elementary School in Englewood is not covered in the program.

“We want to keep the program as long as we need it, which probably will be forever,” Mowry said.

Mowry said once all Charlotte County elementary schools are covered by the program, she’ll expand it.

“If we can get enough money, we’ll eventually move on to the middle schools, but it will be under another program,” she said.


About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News,, and Tampa Tribune.
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