For some children in Aiken County, a zip-lock bag will hold all their meals for two days during the weekend. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 17, 2011)
News 12 This Morning / Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The hallways at Hammond Hill Elementary are filled with colorful backpacks. Open them up and they are packed with the usual supplies, but starting this week there will be something new inside.
"It is unfortunate that there are kids that don't have food to eat on the weekend -- but we are super excited to participate in this program," said Meredith Herrera, a secretary at Hammond Hill Elementary.
Herrera and Hammond Hill Guidance Counselor Christy Cosh are coordinating with the Golden Harvest Food bank's backpack program to feed hungry students.
"This winter, in January, we are starting another five programs in Aiken County alone," said Kay Benitez, coordinator with the Golden Harvest Food Bank.
This will double the number of schools the program reaches.
"We try to look out for kids who have problems or other needs," Cosh said. "We try to identify those kids."
Identifying the students can be tough because coming to school hungry is a sensitive matter for many families.
"I did not have any idea how many children receive free lunch or any idea how many children may be without food on the weekend until I started compiling the list of participants," Herrera said.
She says she's devised a way to get the food in the backpacks without anyone but the student knowing.
"Sneak around on Friday afternoon. We're going to find some sort of label or tag to identify the book bag and we're gonna sneak them in, in the afternoon," Herrera said. "We want to keep it confidential. We don't want the kids to be singled out in any way."
The success of the program lies with the donors and organizers say more people are realizing how full stomachs can lead to a brighter future.
"When kids are hungry, they can't concentrate, they can't focus," Herrera explained. "It affects their academics."
The need is still great. Even with 10 schools participating in the program, Golden Harvest wants more backpacks full of food in every school in Aiken County.
"We really aren't even soliciting money at this point but people are coming to us saying, 'We'd like to sponsor a backpack program,'" Benitez added.
The other schools participating are North Aiken Elementary, Oakwood Windsor Elementary and Aiken High School, which will be the first high school to participate.
The program costs $5 per week, per student.
If you are interested in helping to fund a school you can visit, www.goldenharvest.org or call Golden Harvest at (803) 648-0752 to sponsor a specific school in your community.
Food bank volunteers say they are hoping to do this every year and even extend it into a few other counties if they receive enough support.