Delivering More than Backpacks
People involved in all kinds of mission work often comment about the positive impact their service has on their own perspective, heart, and relationship with God. They set out to serve with a genuine desire to help others, but find themselves forever changed by the very people they seek to help! This is how those serving through Backpack Blessings feel about our friends at Fair Oaks Elementary, who never cease to amaze us with their grateful attitudes and loving hearts.
While our Blue Bags always contain food staples that help meet the basic nutritional needs of the children, we often include fun items and treats to brighten their day. Items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and books help us build relationships with the kids and let them know how special they are to us. During one of our recent visits to Fair Oaks, we surprised our friends with Girl Scout cookies–and what a hit they were! When we returned the following Friday, the kids presented us with a surprise of their own. During the week, they took the time to write the sweetest thank you notes to tell us how much they enjoyed the Girl Scout cookies. But they are thankful for so much more than cookies. They are thankful for the Blue Bags that provide kid-friendly food they can count on. They are thankful for the help their families receive. Most of all, they are thankful for the familiar faces who visit them every Friday morning and give them words of encouragement.
At Backpack Blessings, our mission is more than just providing food to children who are at risk of being hungry during the weekend. We seek to demonstrate Christ’s love by building strong relationships with the children, teachers, staff, and families at Fair Oaks. In doing so, our hearts are changed by the smiles and hugs we receive every Friday. We are just as excited to see our friends as they are to see us!
March 19, 2017
DNOW Youth Gave Over 6,000 Food Items
Backpack Blessings recently teamed up with Mt. Bethel Student Ministries as a mission partner for DNOW, an annual retreat for middle and high school students at Mt. Bethel UMC. After learning about our mission, the students were asked to bring three specific items to include in the “Blue Bags” that we deliver to Fair Oaks every Friday. We are so humbled by the response. The students attending DNOW showed overwhelming love and support for the children of Fair Oaks. By the end of the DNOW weekend, they gave:
1,182 Mac-n-Cheese Cups
2,306 Slim Jims
2,954 Oatmeal Packets
Students helping students. What an incredible contribution that will go a long way in making sure that these children have access to non-perishable, easy-to-prepare, child-friendly food items over the weekends.
That’s what I’ve come to know from working with Mt. Bethel Student Ministries. Our family has been a DNOW Host Home six times, and it is one of my favorite events every year. As a host home, we’ve made several trips to the store throughout each of these weekends so that students could continue to buy items for the mission partner. Seeing these students immersed in genuine, life-changing worship and so willing to serve others is something I never forget.
I’m so thankful that this year I was able to see two things that mean so much to me – Backpack Blessings and DNOW at Mt. Bethel – come together to make a real difference in the lives of children right here in Cobb County.
-- By Gretchen Hornsby
March 1, 2017
It’s February, and that means DNOW at Mt. Bethel is right around the corner! Backpack Blessings is proud to announce that we will be a mission partner for this year’s youth retreat. DNOW is a dynamic weekend filled with high energy worship, inspiring messages, service projects, and fellowship open to all middle and high school students.
DNOW will be held the weekend of February 10-12, and this year’s theme is Realize: Included. Heard. Believed. Marked
The scripture focus for the weekend is Ephesians 1:13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
What happens during the DNOW weekend?
Students begin the weekend on Thursday evening where they gather in the Mt. Bethel Sanctuary for the big host home reveal. This is an exciting time as everyone learns where they will be spending the weekend. Host homes generously provide housing, meals, and transportation for the weekend. Staying at a host home provides an opportunity for the students to take a break from the pace and pressures of their daily lives and hear God and each other more clearly.
On Friday evening, more surprises await. The students arrive at their host homes and spend some time getting to know each other before leaving for their evening session, where they will meet their college leaders. While they are nervous at first, a bond is clearly forming by the time they return to their host homes. The remainder of the evening is spent discussing the keynote speaker’s message, eating plenty of snacks, and laughing well into the night!
Saturday is mission day. Yardwork, serving lunch at local parks, and light construction/cleaning projects are just a few examples of what the students have done during past DNOW retreats. Serving together as the hands and feet of Christ is a critical part of the weekend and will reinforce the scripture focus. Dinner is held at the host home, and then it’s time for another evening worship session at church. This is often an emotional time for the students, and they spend quite a bit of time unpacking what they have heard with their college leaders when they return to their host homes.
The weekend ends on Sunday with a powerful worship service and message for everyone involved in the DNOW weekend: students, parents, leaders, and host homes. This service has become a favorite for many at Mt. Bethel. It is impossible to leave this service the same way you entered. Seeing our young people in authentic worship is a moving experience that stays with you long after everyone has returned to work and school.
How is Backpack Blessings involved in the DNOW weekend?
Being a mission partner means that the students have the opportunity to bring donated items during the evening sessions. They learn about the mission partner throughout the weekend through speakers, videos, and personal testimonies. Students often feel called to ask their host homes to take them to the store to buy more items to donate throughout the weekend.
The students are being asked to bring the following specific items to support the Backpack Blessings mission:
• Slim Jims (0.28 oz size)
• Kraft Easy Mac-n-Cheese Cups (2.05 oz size)
• Oatmeal packets (15.01 oz box size)
These specific items are part of the larger bundle of nutritious food items that go into the blue backpacks each week. Decorated bins will be located at the entrance to the CAC for students to place their donated items. As the weekend progresses, it’s an amazing sight to see the bins fill up with donations. It’s a true testament to God’s love to see the students so willing to provide food items for the children at Fair Oaks Elementary.
We are very excited about this opportunity and ask that you pray for our DNOW students, host homes, volunteers, and everyone at Fair Oaks Elementary. Lives will be changed through this weekend, and we pray that God will move in powerful ways.
February 3, 2017
Baseballs and Backpacks
December 10 was a special day in the life of our ministry. In an effort to raise awareness and funds for Backpack Blessings, D-BAT Marietta, FirstView Financial, Mt. Bethel UMC, and the Walton Raiders baseball team hosted the first of many youth baseball camps.
Children from our community gathered on the Fields of Dreams at Mt. Bethel UMC to receive baseball instruction from members of the 2016 State Champion Walton Raiders baseball team and Carter Kieboom, first round draft pick of the Washington Nationals. The young baseball players had a fantastic time improving their skills for the upcoming season and enjoyed giveaways from the Atlanta Braves.
The children on the Fields weren’t the only ones to benefit from this event. While the camp was provided at no cost to participants, over $2,200 was collected for Backpack Blessings! These generous donations will go a long way in providing food for the children at Fair Oaks Elementary School in Cobb County to take home over the weekends.
We would like to thank Jerry Uffner for his time and dedication in organizing the baseball camp, along with D-BAT Marietta and all of the talented young men who came out to instruct the children in their baseball skills. God provided good weather, beautiful fields, excited children, and willing volunteers to make this event a blessing for so many. We are truly grateful!
January 3, 2017
Do you have a baseball player who would like to prepare for next season while supporting an outstanding ministry that feeds local children? Backpack Blessings is sponsoring a FREE Baseball Camp on the Fields of Dreams at Mt. Bethel UMC on Saturday, December 10 from 1:30-4pm. Professional instruction will be provided by D-Bat Marietta and other instructors. Participants will also have the opportunity to meet members of the 2016 State Champion Walton Raider baseball team, including Carter Kieboom, first round pick of the Washington Nationals in this year’s MLB Draft!
Donations are graciously accepted! 100% of donations will benefit Backpack Blessings, a ministry of Mt. Bethel UMC whose mission is to provide backpacks filled with food for the children at Fair Oaks Elementary School to take home on the weekends. These children qualify for free school lunch and may go without food when school is not in session.
We look forward to a great day of baseball on the Fields!
December 5, 2016
Packed with Love
Volunteers are gathered around large pallets, ready to begin the process of unwrapping and sorting.
500 blue bags are being prepped for packing. The atmosphere is busy, but joyful as familiar conversation and laughter fill the room. It’s Thursday afternoon at the Cagle House, and another Backpack Blessings packing session has begun. Soon, the pallets and boxes will disappear and hundreds of food items will be sorted into organized bins, ready for volunteers to place each item in a blue bag.
Before the backpacks can be delivered to Fair Oaks Elementary each Friday, many preparations occur throughout the week to make this mission happen. The maintenance crew at Mt. Bethel receives the food and delivers it to the Cagle House. A Faithful staging crew ensures that all of the food is organized for a smooth packing session. Families, children, and community groups pack the blue bags while praying for the children who will receive them. The Friday crew hand delivers each blue bag to a child at Fair Oaks while interacting with staff, children, and teachers. Every person involved seeks to be the hands and feet of Christ through their diligent service and love.
“Everyone is so invested in this mission", says Sue Dimick, a crew leader and board member for Backpack Blessings. “Once you deliver bags on a Friday, you will want to go every Friday for the rest of your life. The kids are so grateful. The return you get is so much more than just delivering food for the weekend. You are making a real difference in the lives of these kids.”
“This mission is a real help to the children so that they can make it through the weekend without going hungry", says Joanna, a staging crew volunteer. “I hope that I am helping them in some small way.”
"As a member of Mt. Bethel, I love that the church supports our mission", says Cindy, a staging crew volunteer. “These bags really put a smile on a child’s face.”
Volunteers are always welcome at Backpack Blessings.
If you would like to experience the camaraderie and fellowship that come with serving Christ through preparing our blue bags, please contact Kimberlee Ackerman at email@example.com.
If you would like to make a financial contribution to help sustain and further our mission, please visit the Donate page. Your financial support is needed and due to our partnership with Mt Bethel, 100% of individual donations go towards covering food costs. The impact on these children, their families, and the Fair Oaks teachers and staff is immeasurable.
November 22, 2016
Five Years Serving Local Children
Summertime has come to a close and the big yellow buses are rolling once again. Over the past few weeks, children in Cobb County have been settling back into their school routines. Back to school is an exciting time for families. The anticipation of catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, fresh school supplies, new teachers, and beginning a new grade level are just a few of the things we all look forward to in early August. But for many children, the first day of school holds a different significance. It means the return of at least one hot meal every school day.
According to the Georgia Food Bank Association, 1 in 4 Georgia children, or 28.2% are living in food insecure households. This is well above the national average of 21.4%. According to the USDA, the definition of very low food security is that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members is reduced and their normal eating patterns are disrupted because the household lacks money and other resources for food.
In the spring of 2011, several members of Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta, Georgia became concerned about the number of children in their community who are living in food insecure homes and how this crisis affects their school performance. Eager to be the hands and feet of Christ, the group began researching Elementary Schools in Cobb County that have a high percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Their mission was to partner with an elementary school and further alleviate childhood hunger and improve school performance by providing food for these children to take home over the weekends. After talking with teachers, community leaders, and area principals, a partner school was found. Fair Oaks Elementary, part of the Cobb County School District, serves a population of students who live at or below the poverty level and struggle with food insecurity. The school’s principal was enthusiastic about partnering with the group. A 501 (c) (3) was established, and Backpack Blessings began its mission of working to alleviate childhood hunger and improve school performance in their community. A nutritionist was consulted to determine which food items would be included in the project. The goal was to provide backpacks full of nutritious, nonperishable foods that could be easily and safely prepared by children. The project began with fourth graders at Fair Oaks and expanded to its current level of distributing 500 backpacks every Friday.
Every Thursday, backpacks are cleaned, stuffed, and stored in plastic tubs by volunteer groups such as Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, high school students, sports teams, and community leaders. On Friday morning, the tubs are loaded into a bus provided by a local church and driven to Fair Oaks Elementary School, where a school counselor greets the volunteers and accompanies them as they distribute backpacks to the classrooms. This is a special time for both the children and the volunteers, as there are many smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement shared.
Fair Oaks Elementary has experienced tremendous success. It has been recognized as a 90/90/90 school, meaning that 90% of the students are from ethnic minorities, 90% of the students are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch, and 90% of the students meet or exceeded high academic standards on state testing. Fair Oaks Elementary has been one of only 286 schools in the United States to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School, and one of only 26 schools nationwide to receive the award as an Exemplary Improving School for the 2012-2013 school year. The school has also been recognized as a High Progress School in the state of Georgia for being among the 10% of Title I schools in the state that are making the most progress in improving the performance of the “all students” group over three years on the statewide assessments. Most recently, Fair Oaks Elementary has been recognized as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School by the Franklin Covey Co. for their outstanding implementation of the program.
Backpack Blessings needs your help to continue providing weekend backpacks for the children of Fair Oaks Elementary! A monthly donation of $25 will sponsor one child for an entire year. Having food throughout the weekend helps these children return to school on Mondays better prepared for a week of learning. Please help us alleviate hunger right here in Cobb County by visiting backpackblessings.org to learn more and donate today!
September 15, 2016