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January 14, 2013

Whitley school starting Backpack Program

Boston Elementary program aims to feed hungry children

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

The word “hungry” gets tossed around so casually in American society, the seriousness of actual hunger gets lost in the shuffle.

“I’m hungry — I only ate breakfast today.”

“I’m hungry — is there anything to snack on?”

“I’m hungry — let’s run through a drive-through window somewhere.”

People don’t expect to hear, “I’m hungry — I hope I can make it until we eat at school Monday.”

But too often children’s hunger pangs keep them awake at night — too often these children suffer in silence.

But Community Volunteer Melinda Moses wants to try to change that in Whitley County.

And she’s started with Boston Elementary School.

In collaboration with Denise McKeehan and other staff members, Moses has launched the Backpack Program at Boston Elementary.

This program provides children with a backpack loaded with food to take home and survive on through the weekend. All provided food is ready-to-eat out of the package, although some food requiring cooking gets sent with children who have someone home to prepare it for them.

“This program is for children in school who receive little or nothing to eat (through the weekend),” Moses said. “They’re not getting good, adequate nutrition — and that affects their behavior (and) their attitude.

“We want to make sure they have enough food.”

Della Rose, director of the school’s Family Resource Center, said the idea sprung from a UNITE meeting.

UNITE stands for Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education. It reflects the three-pronged, comprehensive approach deemed necessary to combating substance abuse in Kentucky. Operation UNITE works to rid communities of illegal drug use through undercover narcotics investigations, coordinating treatment for substance abusers, providing support to families and friends of substance abusers, and educating the public about the dangers of using drugs. UNITE’s goal is to educate and activate individuals by developing and empowering community coalitions to no longer accept or tolerate the drug culture.

“I got a vision there,” Moses said.

Rose explained she also heads the Family Resource Center for Pleasant View Elementary in Whitely County. A similar program exists at that school, but with different parameters.

She said Bruce Lee, pastor of two area Methodist churches, sponsors a backpack program for students of Pleasant View. “They sponsor the whole program for us,” Rose said.

That’s where Moses got her “vision.”

Friday was the second distribution of the backpacks. Moses said the number of hungry children they’ve been able to help has already nearly doubled since the first round of food was sent home. “We’ve already got 13 this week,” she said. “We had seven last Friday.”

She said increased donations helped add children to the program rosters. Rose and Moses both said children signed up with the Backpack Program at Boston Elementary will receive weekend food assistance for the remainder of the school year. Rose said children will receive assistance “as needed,” which leaves room to add hungry children to the roster.

Moses seeks to expand the program. “It’s my dream to see this program carry over into all the schools in Whitley County,” she said, adding there are no corporate sponsors for the program. “But to see the program get bigger we need more donations.”

She said the intent was not to “shame” families facing hunger issues. “We want to challenge the mentality of the community,” she said. “And change starts with the young people.”

District 3 Magistrate Jamie Fuson said he’s “a full supporter” of the new Backpack Program. “Everybody says they want to help, but very few act on it,” Fuson said. “But there are people in my district who do help and will help these kids.”

To garner more interest in the Backpack Program and to increase awareness of hunger issues, Moses said a big “kick-off” event has been planned.

The No Kid Hunger campaign, Moses said, will collaborate with the Backpack Program to ensure Whitley County’s students don’t go hungry between school sessions.

The kick-off event will be 9 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the Whitley County Extension Office.

To make a monetary donation to assist these local students, mail a check or money order to Denise McKeehan or Melinda Moses, 5634 North Highway 25W, Williamsburg, KY, 40769.

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