AUGUSTA — As summer winds down students are preparing to head back to the classroom and local volunteers are once again gearing up the BackPack Program, which helps children facing food insecurity.

If you’ve ever fasted for more than 24 hours you know how hard it becomes to concentrate on even the most basic of tasks. For kids in school, hunger becomes an even more daunting struggle to balance while trying to meet the rigor and academic demands of an education.

Over 22 million children nationwide receive free or reduced-cost meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which was established under the National School Lunch Act and signed into law by President Truman in 1946.  However, sometimes for families struggling to make ends meet the only meals children get are during the day while they are at school.

That’s where the BackPack Program comes in.

Local pastor Don Kesner of Christ Community Church in Augusta said the domestic hunger-relief effort (sometimes known as Backpack Ministries) “helps children countywide with donations of food from individuals and other churches.” Kesner added the assistance program strives to offer, “Kid friendly food they can make themselves which helps if their parents are working over the weekend for example.”

The nationwide undertaking was first created more than 15 years ago by Feeding America (previously known as Second Harvest) a group widely cited as creating the first food banks in the late 1970s. Nationally the BackPack Program distributes more than 450,000 bags of food to kids in need. 

According to Feeding America over 1.1 million American children struggle with inadequate food intake each year and an estimated 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, live in households that lack sufficient means to purchase enough nutritious food on a regular basis. The result of this epidemic is 1 out of every 5 kids is going hungry at some point during the year.

Childhood malnutrition has been proven to cause a litany of long lasting health, behavioral, developmental and social problems as they grow older—including some epigenetic effects that pass on to the next generation.

“We’ve been doing the BackPack Ministries Program for 5 years now,” Kesner noted. “Our church typically serves about 90 students a week at Augusta and Slanesville elementary schools, and other groups cover the rest of the schools.”

Bags are assembled and packed during the week, then provided to children in need on Fridays. The program extends for the entire school year. Kesner added “I really want to emphasize that this is a successful group effort  –– a cooperation of many churches and individual volunteers without whom we’d be lost.”

Those wishing to make donations or volunteer can call Darlene Bendy at 856-725-0818 or Sharon Davis 304-496-8566 at Christ Community Church Tuesday-Friday 9-2. o

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