Backpack program aims to keep kids fed over holidays

Published 10:02 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

There’s finally nip in the air and many children and teens are looking forward to being out of school for Christmas break. However, a few may be anxious because school is the only place and time they have a meal to eat.

Anna Houston, Family Resource Center director for Danville Elementary Schools said, “My philosophy is the days the kids are not having lunch and breakfast at school, they could possibly be hungry.”

But, she added, “there is no reason for kids to be hungry.”

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The local Backpack Food Program has been sending a sack of groceries home to each student in the Danville and Boyle County schools who may otherwise go hungry for several years.

Just this week, Houston said she has been talking with members of the board of directors about how to help feed hungry students over Christmas break.

“We have parents who will cook for their kids,” Houston said, explaining they want to send home items parents can use to make their kids meals.

“I want them to be able to make a meal and have something to eat and not just pop-a-top on something, walk away and come back two hours later and not have anything to eat,” she said.

As she reached into a large brown paper grocery bag that was to be delivered early Friday, Houston pulled out a can of green beans that would be part of a good meal. Other examples Houston gave of simple and filling meals would be a can of tuna fish and Tuna Helper, or a box of pasta and a can of sauce.

Another issue to be thought about when sending food for a student and their family is, “Sometimes folks may not have a stove to cook on. Sometimes people may not have a can opener. So, we have to think ‘simple.’ We have to think ‘easy’. Some people may have a microwave and not a stove. Some may not have electric. So we have to think ‘easy’ and ‘simple to fix’ and those kinds of things,” Houston said.

Houston said the Food Backpack programs in all school districts are unique in their own ways. For instance, for Danville’s three elementary schools, Jennie Rogers, Hogsett and Toliver, the Food Backpack Program doesn’t send food home with the students every Friday anymore. Instead, paper bags full of food are delivered to each home by any one of her three assistants or a volunteer — the 42 deliveries take about an hour and a half. They deliver 52 weeks a year, Houston said. And if school happens to be out for a snow day on Friday, the deliveries are still made.

During Christmas break, Houston said she wants to give her staff a bit of time off from delivering food, so she requested the program “to pack as much food as you can possibly pack for them to have something to eat during the time they’re not in school,” Houston said.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but that’s how I explained my need. I think that they’ve got that covered,” she said. In fact, Houston thinks they had it taken care of before she even asked.

Julie Cox, an officer on the board of the Backpack Food Program is also one of the organizers for the Jennie Carol Memorial Mother’s Day 5K race, which donates proceeds to the kids’ food program. Cox said because of the generosity of race sponsors over the past nine years, the organizers of the race decided to donate all of the entry fees to the food program — that amounts to between $13,000 and $18,000.

“Every year it’s like God’s hand is on it,” Cox said.

Cox said the substantial amount given to the food program helps sustain it and helps students and families in Danville and Boyle County elementary, middle and high schools.

Cox said of the program, “It’s important because there are kids in this community that don’t have food on the weekends. It personally bothers me a lot.”

Food and good nutrition is very important to growing bodies minds — “it’s a basic necessity,” Cox said.

“I’m glad (the race committee) is able to do it,” Cox said.

Betty Hawkins is another board member who feels strongly about the weekend food program. “Even just mac-and-cheese and tuna for a meal — it’s just a little way we can say that the community cares about you.”

Hawkins said with an organized board for the program and generous financial support from the 5K, as well as others, they hope to expand to help the family resource and youth service centers more in the future.

Houston said during the cold months, utility and heating costs rise, and this hits some struggling families harder in the pocket, “so they have less money to buy food.”

“Reality hits you in the face,” Houston said. “It’s the small things that help. That bag of food means nothing to most people, but to somebody it means a lot.”


The Kids’ Food Backpack Program serves students in the Boyle and Danville school districts. Currently 121 bags of food are given to students on Fridays.

Lucinda Mingey is liaison between of the family resource and youth services centers, the supporting churches and Centre College Sodexo employees, who volunteer their time to collect, purchase and organize the food and pack bags.

Churches who participate in the program are Indian Hills Christian Church, Southland Christian Church, First Christian Church and Centenary United Methodist Church.

To volunteer or make a donation, contact Anna Houston, director of Danville Schools’ family resource centers, at her office in Jennie Rogers Elementary School, or at (859) 553-3424, or email Julie Cox at