Backpack Buddies fills stomachs

Grumbling stomachs of 40 Shelby County students will be filled this weekend when they arrive home from school and open their backpacks.

Inside they’ll find packs of applesauce, spaghettios, granola bars and juice boxes.

Inverness Vineyard Church, in conjunction with Vineyard Family Services, began providing the snacks three weeks ago.

Vineyard Director Ward Williams said it’s a simple, but needed project.

“We’re trying to find a way the church could tangibly see a way to help the community,” Williams said. “Packing these bags with snacks is very tangible. They can see the good they are doing.”

Vineyard Family Services works with estranged fathers and the families who they currently aren’t supporting. Ward said he knows when fathers don’t pay child support that leaves many kids hungry.

Church Youth Pastor Jason Richardson said he and his youth have been excited to help out.

“It was a God thing that my first week of work this came to me. I immediately jumped on the chance to get the kids involved in the community,” Richardson said.

Vineyard works with the school system’s social workers to identify kids in need. The program currently benefits kids at Valley Elementary and Montevallo Middle School; twenty students at each receive snacks. The students’ teachers discreetly place the snacks in the kids’ backpacks before the end of the day on Fridays.

Ward said he hopes to expand the project.

“We’re not hitting every child that’s in need, but 40 for a pilot program is a good start,” Williams said. “We’re hoping at some point another church or organization would be willing to adopt one of the other schools in need.”

The group is always looking for donations, Ward said.

They ask that anyone willing to donate bring individualized–sized items that are easy for small children to open. They pack the bags with things that don’t have to be heated up, so the kids can eat them easily.

The item list for each bag includes: ravioli or equivalent, apple sauce, juice box, snack pudding, cheese & crackers, peanut butter & crackers, packets of grits/oatmeal and a chewy granola bar.

Ward said the need is greater now than many people realize.

“There are lots of people that are hungry for the first time,” Williams said. “And the bad thing is they don’t know where to go for assistance.”

Items can be dropped off at Inverness Vineyard Church on Wednesdays by 5 p.m.