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Backpack project extended to 3 more Aiken Co. schools

Weekend backpack program

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, Aug. 17, 2011

AIKEN, S.C. -- For some Aiken County students, the food they'll get at school today is the only meal they receive. That's why the Golden Harvest Food Bank is extending a weekend backpack program to three other schools this year.

Coordinators say that is still not enough because one in every four children in the CSRA start the school day hungry.

For some children in Aiken County, a zip-lock bag will hold all their meals for two days during the weekend.

"Eighteen hundred kids in Aiken county have nothing to eat from the time they leave school Friday until Monday morning," said Kay Benitez with Golden Harvest Food Bank.

The food bank teamed up with Leadership Aiken to raise more than $40,000 to help start up the weekend backpack project in more schools. This year Belvedere Elementary, Millbrook Elementary and East Aiken School of the Arts will send some of their students home with food for the weekend.

"The backpack program is something we've been hoping to have for our school because 75 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced meals," said Mary Robinson, principal at East Aiken School of the Arts.

It's one of the highest percentages in the county, which is why this school was chosen.

"They come back on Monday tired and sleepy," Robinson said.

She says her students' families are also dealing with paying higher lunch prices, which went from a $1.60 to $2 this year.

"We have parents that are unemployed or under-employed," she said.

The hope is by sending food home for the weekend, students will perform better in class during the week.

"What is in the backpack is two cereals two shelf stable milks, two fruits juices and some meats," Benitez said.

Now the hard part is choosing who gets to go home with one of the bags.

"That's going to be very difficult," Robinson said.

Only 70 to 100 students will be picked to participate from each school. Principal Robinson says there is just not enough money to help every student that needs food on weekends.

Golden Harvest is hoping to raise more money to keep growing this program in more schools because the need is so great in Aiken.

Their goal is to start up a weekend backpack project in every school within the next three years. It costs $160 dollars per child per year.

Golden Harvest estimates it takes around $6,000 to start up and maintain a program at one school. They are hoping the money will be raised through more community initiatives.

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