There are hundreds of children in Clinton and Sampson County who go home from school on Fridays not knowing where their next meal will come from — or if there will be one at all.
The Backpack Buddies of Clinton and Sampson County is a non-profit volunteer program that provides food to school children who are at risk of having very little to eat over the weekend. Through the program, teachers, guidance counselors and principals of the individual schools help identify and select children who are in need.
A $5,000 donation from Rotary International to the Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club will ensure the program, which relies on such donations from local groups and volunteers, continues this year.
Currently, Backpack Buddies provides nutritious food to 240 students in four schools in the Clinton City Schools system and 500 students at 13 schools in the Sampson County Schools system. Local churches, community residents and civic organizations throughout the county work to ensure funding is made available for the program, all of which is used to purchase food.
The Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club and club president Victoria Byrd accepted the $5,000 check from Philip Livermore of Rotary District 7730 at its Monday meeting. The funds will benefit the Backpack Buddies effort, through which Clinton-Sampson Rotary is teaming up with the nighttime Clinton Rotary Club.
Through the effort, food is purchased locally at the best prices possible. From shopping to packing to delivery, every aspect of the program is handled by volunteers within the community, as well as those in church and civic groups. As part of the Rotary clubs’ efforts, First United Methodist Church will help distribute food bagged by Rotarians and others.
The origins of the grant actually go back to India, where a similar project sought to feed needy children.
There were two grants for the same Feed the Hungry Children project, one for the Western side of the Rotary district and the other for the Eastern side. The Rotary Club of Shallotte was the host club for the Western, with their international partner located in the New Delhi area of India. The Rotary Club of Maysville was the host club for the Eastern side, with the Goa area of India serving as their international partner.
The two districts in India each gave N.C. Rotary $10,000, with the local Rotary district contributing a matching $10,000 for each, for a total of $40,000, which was then matched by the Rotary Foundation. That means $80,000 total for the district, including $40,000 for the Western side, $40,000 for the Eastern side.
It was determined that spreading that money throughout the district, Livermore noted, “would be a good way to help out.” He credited former Rotary president Bryan Griffin for his work in getting the ball rolling for this year’s Backpack Buddies effort. He thanked the Clinton-Sampson Rotary for its participation in the endeavor.
“There will be $80,000 presented by the end of this week,” Livermore said. “Eight areas have at least one club participating. Some have as many as five.”
Also in Clinton’s area, the Wallace and Coastal Pender Rotary Clubs are receiving $2,500 apiece to benefit the program.
The Backpack Buddies program has been established for three years and, with private donations and community involvement, will continue to provide food to needy children for the foreseeable future, Griffin said.
“There are many children who leave school on Fridays with little hope of having a nutritional meal over the weekend and the Backpack Buddies program helps children continue to develop by giving them assistance and nutritional support that they otherwise might not receive,” Griffin said.
The money given to Backpack Buddies will greatly assist the viability of the program, Rotary officials said. It takes about $600 per week to purchase food goods just for Clinton City Schools, not even taking into account Sampson County Schools — so the money is expected to will be a big help, Rotary officials said.
“That’s your Rotary money at work,” Livermore said. “That’s $80,000 — $10,000 for each of eight areas.”
Along with Rotary, many other local civic groups and local companies partner with the Backpack Buddies program, further assisting the overall effort/
“Through community involvement and private donations, which many of our Rotarians generously give, the Backpack Buddies will be sustained even after the grant money from Rotary runs out,” Griffin said.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.