Program keeps kids fed

Published 3:15 pm Friday, August 3, 2012

From left, Stephanie Grissom and Ward Williams of Vineyard Family Services, Cindy Warner of Valleydale Church, Dorann Tanner of the Shelby County School System and Molly Wickstrom and Jeb Whitley of EarthFare hold the juice boxes and lunchboxes EarthFare donated to the Backpack Buddies program. (Reporter photo/Amy Jones)

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

During any given school week, hundreds of Shelby County Schools students are in danger of going hungry on Saturdays and Sundays.

Dedicated local churches, organizations and businesses are working to change that, one child at a time, through Backpack Buddies, a program designed to fight childhood hunger.

Stephanie Grissom of Vineyard Family Services, who directs the Backpack Buddies program, said negative effects are possible when a child between the ages of 5-12 misses even a few meals.

“It affects behavior, academics and cognitive development,” she said. “One in five kids is food insecure, so every time the community helps us feed kids in need, that addresses the hunger issue.”

EarthFare in Hoover was only the latest business to donate goods to Backpack Buddies, giving the program 600 healthy juice boxes and 20 lunchboxes.

Valleydale Church will use the juice boxes when putting together their buddy bags, which contain foods such as peanut butter crackers, macaroni and cheese cups, fruit snacks, pudding cups and granola bars, among other items. Valleydale Church sponsors Pelham’s Valley Elementary School, which has 20 students in the Backpack Buddies program.

Cindy Warner, who organizes the program at Valleydale Church and also works for the school system, said while she’s thrilled that 20 students at Valley are getting assistance, that number could double if resources were available.

“We just don’t have the resources. We have to limit that number to 20 children,” Warner said. “Donations like this (from EarthFare) help our budget.”

The program costs about $200 per child during the school year.

“It’s time-consuming, but it’s a blessing too. We really are blessing these children and their families,” Warner said. “I think people really can’t wrap their minds around children in Shelby County going hungry, but it happens.”

The Backpack Buddies program currently serves 280 children in Shelby County every week. Schools served include Calera Elementary, Calera Middle, Calera Intermediate, Creekview Elementary, Elvin Hill Elementary, Helena Elementary, Meadowview Elementary, Montevallo Middle, Shelby Elementary, Thompson Intermediate, Valley Elementary, Vincent Elementary and Vincent Middle.

The school system would like to add Chelsea Elementary, Columbiana, Middle, Wilsonville Elementary, Valley Intermediate, Riverchase Middle and Thompson Sixth Grade Center.

Current sponsors include Inverness Vineyard Church, United Methodist Church of Calera, Junior League of Birmingham, the Darden Foundation and the Richard C. Scrushy Charitable Foundation, Helena United Methodist, Westwood Baptist Church, Valleydale Church, First Christian Church, Vincent Baptist Church, North Shelby Baptist Church, Publix Supermarket Charities, Risktek Solutions LLC, Combat Fitness, Ben Cohen Fitness, ServPro, EarthFare and Helena Hometown Pharmacy.

To contribute to the program, contact Grissom at 317-9897.