There are many national and international organizations whose mission it is to fight hunger, and everyone is familiar with the name of one or another. However, in Rolesville and Wake Forest, North East Wake Backpack Buddies is the organization working to provide food for hungry children on a regular basis. On March 27, 2014, almost two dozen people, including members of the Chi Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, came together for the weekly setup and packing of food bags. What made this packing session different from others was the fact that delivery day would occur on the last school day before spring break for traditional calendar schools.
NEW Backpack Buddies packs food bags for school children specifically to help them through the weekend because, as their slogan states, “…hunger doesn’t take the weekend off.” Students on the traditional calendar won’t have a delivery while they’re on break, so volunteers enhanced the food bags with a full size jar of peanut butter to provide extra protein for the week. More than half the jars needed for the week’s bags were provided by the sorority.
The organization relies on the schools’ social workers, counselors, and teachers to determine which children would benefit from the program. Once identified, Backpack Buddies must get permission from the students’ parents, and the forms to be filled out are supplied in English and Spanish. The bags of food are discreetly distributed to the children before they leave for the day and contain food for the weekend.
According to Board member and Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Selna, NEW Backpack Buddies decided two years ago to use plastic bags rather than backpacks for distribution purposes.
“The kids put our bag into their own backpack, it maintains their privacy, and we know that the food gets to the kids in a sanitary way,” she explained.
“Everything regarding Backpack Buddies is done by volunteers,” Selna added. “We have a nine-person Board of Directors that is all volunteers. The people who pack and the people who deliver are volunteers.”
President Lena Gott said, “We have approximately 175 volunteers in all, and it’s a good mix of people. Our volunteers come from many different organizations, churches and youth groups. I originally got involved through a mom’s group I was in, and we would help pack.”
One such volunteer organization is the Chi Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The chapter serves the communities of Knightdale, Wendell, Zebulon, Wake Forest, and Rolesville. Global Poverty is one of AKA’s initiatives and they work diligently to alleviate poverty locally, nationally, and internationally.
BriAnna Walker is the Global Poverty Lead for the 80-member chapter. “It’s each individual chapter’s responsibility to find different organizations that cater to poverty on the local level. It’s my job to find opportunities (those opportunities). We’re here to volunteer to work and serve, and we’re glad that these backpacks are going to students who are right here in our service area.”
The food program is funded solely by donations – corporate and individual. 100% of donations go toward the children as there is no paid staff. Started at Rolesville Baptist Church, the program continues to be headquartered there even though as a 501(3)c organization they’re independent of the church.
A storage closet for the food and a room for organizing and packing are donated by the church to the Buddies.
Selna said, “We pay nothing (for the space), and we’re incredibly grateful for that.”
At times, however, space is limited since they try to keep three weeks’ worth of food on hand. With 200 children in the program and approximately 150 bags delivered each week, that’s a large amount of food on hand.
“Space is a constant issue,” Selna said, “so instead of having food drives, we ask for donations of money instead. Then we do our shopping, keeping an eye on prices so that we’re good stewards of the money we have. Also, the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina donates approximately 25% of our food. They give us enough food to feed approximately fifty children every week.”
For more information about the program or to sign up as a volunteer, go to newbackpackbuddies.org. For more information about the Chi Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, go to Bottom of Form chirhoomega-aka.com