Best Buds: Area groups team up to help Backpack Buddies

From left, members of the Junior League of Birmingham Allison Lassiter, Whitney Saunders and Jessica Naftel pose in front of the Backpack Buddies van. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks

From left, members of the Junior League of Birmingham Allison Lassiter, Whitney Saunders and Jessica Naftel pose in front of the Backpack Buddies van. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks)

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HOOVER–Members of the Junior League of Birmingham and Vineyard Family Services gathered Tuesday, Oct. 21 at Inverness Vineyard Church with a common goal in mind, to help families and their school children with meals to eat on the weekends.

The program Backpack Buddies, established in 2009, is a national program designed to fight childhood hunger. Children ages 5-12 are given nutritious and easy to prepare food they can take home on Fridays when other resources aren’t available.

The members of the Junior League were hosting a packing party where they packed lunches that consisted of mac n cheese, cereal, granola bars, crackers, apple sauce, pudding, apple juice and more.

Stephanie Grissom, program director of VFS, discussed the Backpack Buddies organization and how it has helped so many children throughout the Shelby County area.

“In 2009 the program started out in two schools and now we are in 27 schools in the Shelby County area and have 15 partners also helping us,” said Grissom. “We want to express our deepest gratitude to the Junior League. The Jr. League of Birmingham funding allows our agency to feed another 80 children in need every single week.”

The state of Alabama is ranked fourth highest in child poverty and one in five children are food insecure. During holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break the volunteers will double pack the bags with more food to help out with the extra days kids are not in school.

Kim Rowlen, who is in her third year helping with the Junior League of Birmingham, discussed some of her favorite things about the Backpack Buddies program.

“Just being able to help children and families who are in need is satisfiying,” said Rowlen. “It’s good to know they will be able to eat and we can help out their family.”

The volunteers are trying to find more ways to help feed children during the summer months when school is not in session to provide food during that time as well.