Helping Kids in the “Backpack Program”

VERO BEACH — Volunteers from the Holy Cross Knights of Columbus are gearing up for their 9th Annual Golf Tournament, 1 p.m. Friday, April 16 at the Bent Pine Country Club.  The tournament is a scramble format with three flights (men, women and seniors), and the $125 registration includes a post event cocktail reception and awards presentation.  This year the event is rather special as all the proceeds will go towards the expansion of the “Backpack Program” in Indian River County, so that we can make progress in alleviating childhood hunger in our community.

Our schools provide free or reduced cost meals for students whose families are categorized as low income. Of the 73 million children in the United States, 28 million participate in these programs every day.  And of that number the USDA estimates that there are 12.6 million of these children who live in food insecure households.  In other words they would not eat if they were not going to school which poses the question; what happens to them on weekends and vacation days?

Fortunately for many Indian River County elementary school children, the staff at Treasure Coast Elementary had seen a news report about teachers in Palm Beach County who were addressing this situation by doing a “Backpack Program”. They recognized that this program was needed in their school, and mobilized a group of volunteers to help.

The “Backpack Program” began at Treasure Coast Elementary in August 2006 with donations of food from teachers, parents and students. Later that year under the leadership of Cindy Scherpf, the Rotary Club of Orchid Island funded the expansion of the program to other elementary schools.

The mechanics of the program are simple, with children identified as candidates by nurses and teachers. Their parents are then contacted to determine if they are in need of assistance and are willing to accept help.  If so, as the child leaves class on Friday, he/she discreetly picks up a backpack filled with basic food items for nourishment through the weekend. Typically the backpack will contain: shelf stable milk, juices, boxed cereal, crackers, canned stews & soups, fruit, granola bars, pudding etc., depending on what is available in product and funds.

The program has now grown to eight schools helping more than 380 kids, and Cindy and her volunteers elected to bring the program under the management of the Treasure Coast Food Bank which has the needed purchasing power and delivery capabilities.

To date the “Backpack Program” has received assistance from local churches, and donations from the local Publix and Wal-Mart, including foodstuffs and toiletries.  Backpack also receives financial support from The Rotary Club of Orchid Island Foundation and George Warren Corporation, enabling it to include fresh fruit and vegetables, and purchase additional backpacks as needed.

The objective is to expand the program to each of the elementary schools in Indian River County and funding is needed to purchase food. We thank you for taking the time to learn about the “Backpack Program” and hope you will consider participating in the golf tournament as a sponsor, a player or as a donor if you cannot attend.

Information:  Call Tom LaRocca at 772-794-9965 or George Taylor at 772-581-5644.

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