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!
newsletters & Blogs