Boyle Schools survey helps grow community support for hungry kids

Published 7:43 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

After Boyle County Schools completed its district-wide needs survey of every student and family last fall, officials began to study the data so they could develop new programs and services to meet those needs.

But in the area of food insecurity, there wasn’t time to sit down and strategize first, said Katie Ellis, who is heading up the district’s food insecurity subgroup.

Louise Medaris packs a bag with food Thursday.
Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

“We started intervening immediately when we saw there was a need,” Ellis said. “… If we saw there was a severe need, we began that process as soon as the information came to us.”

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The survey responses from the district’s approximately 2,700 families helped school officials identify parents and students who were suffering from food insecurity but weren’t receiving assistance, said Stephanie Wade, a district spokesperson.

The school district isn’t releasing much of the survey data because of confidentiality concerns, but there are a couple stats Wade provided that show how support for food-insecure families has grown since the survey:

• Boyle County’s “backpack program,” which sends food home with kids so they have something to eat on weekends, has increased its numbers by about 28 percent; and

• additional food being sent home for students over school breaks has gone up by 40 percent.

“It has been a very aggressive process,” Ellis said of the subgroup’s work with the school district’s family resource and youth service center (FRYSC) coordinators, who deliver the food to students’ homes on Fridays.

The food for the backpack program has to come from somewhere. In Boyle County, it comes from Backpack Kids Inc., which is an organization run by a coalition of five local churches, said Julie Cox, a lead organizer.

Backpack Kids has around 40-50 volunteers who are involved on a regular basis. They help sort and bag the food every week, so it’s ready for the FRYSC coordinators to pick up on Fridays.

Cox acknowledged that Backpack Kids has felt some pressure as the number of kids enrolled in the program have grown, but so far “we are able to meet the need of additional people.”

“God kind of works things out when you are being obedient to what he wants you to do,” she said. “So some of the timing of the donations have amazingly coincided with the increase in need. So that has been a nice blessing.”

Kandy Streep, right, and Allison Ramsey sort food as they pack bags for the backpack program Thursday. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

On Thursday, a crew of five Backpack Kids volunteers was busy packing food in the organizations pantry at Indian Hills Christian Church. Neil and Ginny Eklund, Kandy Streep, Louise Medaris, Allison Ramsey and Jerry Brock said they usually have twice as many to get all the bags done, but this week several regulars were unavailable. As the group worked, they noted the shelves of the main pantry, while still quite full of food, were much less full than they had seen before.

Backpack Kids also serves Danville Independent School District. Cox said funding comes from donations and the organization’s big fundraiser, the Jennie Carol 5K, held every year on Mother’s Day weekend. The 5K has raised more than $160,000 in the last 10 years for the program.

Backpack Kids accepts donations of food, and it also places weekly orders with God’s Pantry in Lexington.

“We have to be very fiscally responsible. That’s why we use God’s’ Pantry, because we’re able to buy things at a less expensive cost to us,” Cox said. “… Increasing donations to this program will only help us to continue to do this.”

Cox said Backpack Kids is a “beautiful representation” of churches in the community working together.

“The thought of children in this community not having some food breaks my heart,” she said. “… One of the reasons this program works so well is our family resource teachers in the schools completely have their thumb on the pulse of what is happening with students and they work amazing time and hours to help these kids.”

On Friday morning, Boyle County’s five FRYSC coordinators arrived at the Backpack Kids pantry around 9 a.m. to load up their vehicles and begin making their rounds.

FRYSC Coordinator Hettie Harless wheels a cart full of bags for students in the Backpack Kids program out of a building at Indian Hills Christian Church Friday morning. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

Hettie Harless, Kristen Griffin, Sandra Clark, Kathleen Sinkhorn and Liz Gardner Welch said there’s a reason FRYSC coordinators all wind up driving minivans or SUVs, and the backpack program is proof of why: One of the SUVs being packed Friday could barely hold all the bags being loaded into it.

Back at the district’s central office, Ellis said the food insecurity subgroup isn’t done addressing the needs identified in the survey.

“I think there is always more to do,” she said. “… A hungry child is not going to learn. If a child is living in an emergency, then they’re not going to make the same academic gains another child would.”

Ellis said her attention is now turning to the upcoming summer break and growing the district’s summer feeding program.

Last year, the program provided more than 12,600 breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ellis wants to make it bigger this year.

Wade said parents have told the district they are unsure about where the free summer meals are being provided and when; in response, the district is planning a promotional campaign for the summer feeding program that will use maps and social media posts, among other things, to help make it easier for families to participate.

“The foundation of the survey was there is more work to do,” Wade said. “We know there is more work to do. Let’s find it and let’s do it.”

“This is only the beginning of something really great for our community,” Ellis said. “It’s built on a lot of years to get to this point.”

Watch for more articles about the other subgroups working with data from the Boyle County Schools’ needs survey in future issues of The Advocate-Messenger.


To make a donation to Backpack Kids Inc., mail a check to Backpack Kids, PO Box 802, Danville, KY 40423. To register for the Jennie Carol 5K, scheduled for May 11, visit or find Jennie Carol’s 5K for Backpack Kids on Facebook. The full registration price of $25 goes directly to Backpack Kids, thanks to sponsors who cover the cost of putting the event on.