Backpack Buddies helps keep hungry elementary school students fed

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Hilton Head Elementary School social worker Denise Friday works with the Backpack Buddies program.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Thanks to Carole Galli of Hilton Head Island for sharing a glimpse into the work of local elementary school social workers.

"Unsung Heroes"

By Carole Galli

I don't know if you are familiar with the work of Backpack Buddies of Hilton Head Island, but I'd like to give you some insight into the wonderful work that is being done to help hungry children in our elementary schools.

I'll begin with a little background information, but it is important to keep in mind that it is the social workers at the three Hilton Head Island elementary schools who are largely responsible for the success of the Backpack Buddies program. These caring and dedicated ladies play a number of important roles in the process.

Backpack Buddies is a grass-roots program that started out as a conversation among a few women from Congregation Beth Yam.

In March 2010, those women organized a community forum to draw attention to the degree to which hunger and homelessness exists in our community. That forum resulted in a core of interested people coming together and organizing The Hunger and Homeless Coalition, with the vision that we become "a community free of hungry and homeless people."

Within the coalition a committee was formed to develop a program that would investigate and address the needs of children in our community.

After several discussions and meetings, a partnership was formed with the three Hilton Head elementary schools. In September 2010 a program was launched that would provide lunches on weekends to children who qualify for subsidized meals at school.

That program, which began with 50 students, has shown steady growth and now, in its fourth full school year of operation, provides weekend meals for 200 students.

That growth and success is due in no small part to the strong outpouring of support from the entire island community. In addition to Congregation Beth Yam, First Presbyterian Church, St. Andrew By- the-Sea United Methodist Church, St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church, All Saints Episcopal Church and Christ Lutheran Church also provide volunteers, and/or financial assistance to the program.

Local civic organizations have also been generous with their financial support.

But this program would never have gotten off the ground and certainly would not be the success that it is today without the strong support and total commitment of the elementary school principals, staff and most especially the social workers.

In each school, it is the social worker who identifies eligible children. She is the one who contacts the parents and collects the permission slips. It is her job to organize the backpacks as well as the packing teams who come into the schools to help fill the backpacks.

On Fridays the social worker oversees the distribution of backpacks to the children, and at the beginning of each week it is her job to collect and maintain returned backpacks. Last, but not least, there are records to keep and paperwork to complete.

These unsung heroes are Denise Friday at Hilton Head Island Elementary School, Carolyn Montgomery at the Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts, and Katie Todd at the Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center.

I am privileged to sit on the board of the Hunger and Homeless Coalition and to be a member of the Backpack Committee. I am impressed by the commitment and dedication of a large group of retirees who want to make a difference in this community.

But all of our commitment and dedication and all of the financial support we garner would be for naught if it weren't for the kindness, the caring, the compassion and the commitment that the social workers bring to their work and to their students every single day.

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