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Local group is blessing children with food

Good things come in more than just small packages — they also come in backpacks.

Blessings in a Backpack feeds an average of 230 local children on the weekends during the school year. Students from both Brookhaven and Lincoln County are served.

“There’s a lot of poverty in our area,” said organizer Betty Ann Williams. “It’s a way of meeting a need.”

The purpose of the program is to give food to children who have little or nothing to eat. Recipients must qualify for free or reduced lunch at their schools. Students and their siblings are identified by their schools.

Every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. during the school year, the group at First United Methodist Church meets to pack bags. These bags are packed into boxes that are delivered to the schools. Counselors disperse the bags to children who need them.

Williams had read about the program and its success in other places, and her curiosity was peaked. After some organizing, she and others started a program here.

Blessings in a Backpack is a nonprofit organization based in Louisville, Kentucky. According to the organization, $100 feeds one student for one year, including extra food during the holidays.

Brookhaven’s Blessings in a Backpack chapter has a goal for the upcoming school year; to raise $23,000 in order to serve 230 students each week.

The 2019-2020 school year will be the fifth year the program has been in Brookhaven.

Williams and the other volunteers don’t know who gets the bags, but they know they go to children who need them.

Sixty-seven percent of children in Brookhaven School District and 45 percent of children in Lincoln County School District qualify for the free lunch program, and 7 percent and 12 percent respectively qualify for the reduced lunch program.

According to data presented by Blessings in a Backpack, students who are hungry are more likely to have behavior problems, along with having trouble paying attention in class.

“Poverty is a cycle,” Williams said. “If we can keep these kids in school, they can break that cycle of poverty.”

Committee members include Williams, Wanda Fernald, Susan Hood and Virginia Starks. Williams says the community-wide effort has nearly 30 volunteers total. Volunteers come from eight churches around the county.

For anyone interested in making a donation, checks can be mailed to First United Methodist Church. Make checks payable to Blessings in a Backpack, and on the memo line write “Brookhaven Schools.”

Donations can also be made online at www.blessingsinabackpack.org, making sure that the donation is credited to the Brookhaven-Lincoln County program.

“It’s turned into a community outreach project and we’re happy with it,” Williams said. “It’s really worked out well.”

For more information call Williams at 601-757-3236.

Story by Gracie Byrne