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Blessings come in a school backpack

A group of volunteers in Brookhaven meet once a week during the school year to spread blessings throughout the county.

Betty Ann Williams organized a mission project four years ago at her church, First United Methodist Brookhaven, and it’s grown into a Blessings in a Backpack ministry that serves about 225 children a week. When it started, they gave away about 20 bags each week.

It takes a minimum of $22,500 for the program to meet the current average, she said. That works out to about $100 per child, but any amount of donation is welcomed.

Volunteers meet on Thursdays to fill plastic grocery bags with goodies to get students through the weekend — at least two breakfast items, two lunch items and two snacks. Sometimes they’ll add more if they have it or if it’s a long weekend, Williams said.

For the holidays, they pack enough to get the recipient through the two-week break. That’s usually a dozen or so of each item.

The bags go to students in kindergarten through 12th grade at all of the city and county public schools. The bags are delivered to the school counselors. The volunteers never know who get them.

“Kids don’t get to choose their circumstances,” she said. “The whole purpose is, we want to keep them in school. If they can get educated, then they have a better chance of breaking that cycle of poverty. The next generation will have a little bit easier time. The one way to keep them in school is to keep them fed. We’re not going to save everybody. We know that.”

The national backpack program feeds children in kindergarten through sixth grade, but Williams felt the need was greater here and suggested they take care of all the kids in each family. If a child in the younger grades receives a weekly bag, then the other siblings in the house can receive one also. The older siblings sometimes opt out, but the program is open to them, she said.

Williams said about 67 percent of the students in the Brookhaven School District and about 45 percent of the students in the Lincoln County School District qualify for the free lunch program. A smaller percentage in both — 7 percent and 12 percent respectively — qualify for reduced lunches.

The counselors work with families and supply a number of bags needed for each school to Williams. The bags are filled and delivered to the city schools. Bags for the county attendance centers are delivered to the district office in Brookhaven.

Volunteers begin their task each week with prayer for the students who will receive the gift. The packing takes about 30 minutes.

Donations can be mailed to First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 358, Brookhaven, MS 39602. Make checks payable to Blessings in a Backpack. On the memo line, write “Brookhaven-Lincoln County Mississippi Schools.”

Donations can also be made online at www.blessingsinabackpack.org. Follow the prompts to donate to the specific program. Williams suggests calling her at 601-757-3236 to ensure the gift is credited to the Brookhaven-Lincoln County program.