Backpack Buddies feeds local children

Local children volunteer to help pack meals for the Backpack Buddies program. (Contributed)

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

Local school-age children are coming to school hungry on Monday morning after long weekends without food. Stephanie Grissom sees the need, and is utilizing the Backpack Buddies program to fill in those nutrition gaps.

“We’ve entered our second year of Backpack Buddies. Shelby County has 19 elementary and intermediate schools in Shelby, and we are currently in four,” said Stephanie Grissom, the programming and marketing director for Vineyard Family Services in North Shelby. “We wanted to push (Backpack Buddies) harder this year, because we received a tremendous amount of feedback from principals and guidance counselors.

“There’s a need, with many children with food insecurity issues,” she said. “We think hunger-project programs are really important.”

Vineyard Family Services is asking Shelby County residents and companies to consider donating money, grocery store gift cards and single-serving foods children can open themselves, as many of the children feed both themselves and younger siblings, Grissom said.

“These children are ages where they’re not going to walk down the street to the store and get food. We can ensure the children are fed for the weekend,” she said.

“For $3,200, an individual or a company can sponsor one school for one year,” Grissom said. “It not only helps children in our county, but helps promote their business. This is a way to improve child neglect, whether intentional or circumstantial.”

The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham (CFGB) responded to this need by supplying a grant to Creek View Elementary School in Pelham.

“(CFGB) gave us a $3,200 grant last week, which feeds an entire year of children at Creek View,” Grissom said. “We’ve already gotten response from guidance counselors about how excited the kids are. It’s making a difference.

“There’s a new level of poverty that has developed in the last few years. There’s a lot more children in need for this service than people could even imagine,” she said. “You can’t always tell by looking at them.

“It’s a mark on our county that we really don’t want,” Grissom said.

Grissom said some families feel embarrassed about their state of need and have no idea where to start looking for help.

“We’re just trying to fill a hole,” Grissom said. “The feedback from guidance counselors has been tremendous. Guidance counselors write letters to parents and explain what we’re doing. We’ve never received a refusal letter from a parent or guardian to date. Most (parents) feel badly they can’t give their children what they need right now.”

The Backpack Buddies program is currently in four Shelby County schools, Montevallo Middle, Meadowview Elementary, Creek View Elementary and Valley Elementary, but three more schools are high-risk and in serious demand. The three remaining schools are Shelby Elementary, Calera Elementary and Thompson Intermediate.

“Shelby County is too great of a county to have children who are not eating on the weekends,” Grissom said.

For more information on Vineyard Family Services and the Backpack Buddies program, call Stephanie Grissom at 317-9897, or visit Vfsdads.com.