Backpack Initiative seeks donations

Published 10:01 am Tuesday, August 29, 2017

WINDSOR – The Youth Bertie Backpack program, sponsored by Youth Bertie, Inc., believes it has made a nutritional difference in the lives of Bertie County’s school children, and they want that aid to continue.

With time running out before they begin their 2017-18 campaign thanks to the start of a new school year, they are making an all-out push for donations before their deadline coming up in early September.

“I know we’ll make it (the goal),” says co-chair of Youth Bertie Ronald “Ron” Wesson. “We may be a little bit shy come the second week, but that’s why we feel things like publicity can help.

“The goal was to raise $32,000, and Youth Bertie is 60 percent there. Last year the Backpack Initiative fed 155 kids each weekend during the school year.  This year that goal is 175 kids fed. This effort is not a government or county-funded operation. We are a grassroots effort of citizens, churches and businesses that want to help break the cycle of hunger in this county. We are a 501(C3) non-profit corporation,” he insisted.

“This is our third year in existence,” Wesson added. “Every penny raised during our Fund Raising Campaign (which is only during the summer months) goes directly to buy food. All operating costs are paid by our four founding partners. With about 15 days to go on our campaign this year, we could really use the community’s help … we are about 60 percent to our goal.

“We have 157 givers (as of mid-August),” he stated. “These are people who’ve given donations as little as $5 and $10. We buy the food with the money. When you really think about it that’s really a small universe. It costs $185 to feed a child for the entire school year; we welcome any and all support. ”

Wesson says he wants to expand the number of givers and the Initiative has challenged faith-based groups like the West Roanoke Missionary Baptist Association.

“Last year we had 16 (WRMBA members) who contributed along with other Baptist churches in the white community, St. Thomas Church, Holiness churches, a lot of them,” he noted. “We don’t bug people; we just send one letter with our brochure and ask, ‘Please help us’.”

Packaged meals (two breakfasts, two lunches, healthy snacks), plus the fruit are purchased, then packed weekly every Thursday and delivered on Friday morning to schools. All of the group’s packaged food is purchased from The Albemarle Food Bank in Elizabeth City.

“We serve all five elementary schools in the county, including the charter school,” Wesson maintained. “All children we serve each week are identified by school counselors and teachers with assistance from the Bertie County Department of Social Services because our goal is to serve the most needy.

“Our goal the first year was to serve 100 kids,” he stated. “We ended the year with 140.  In year-two we started at 140 and ended with 155.  We’re starting this year at 155 and our goal is to get to 175 by the end of the school year.”

4H Club members, plus Community Service kids (kids helping kids) pack the backpack bundles each week.

“In the upcoming year, our Community Service kids are planning to conduct quarterly Community Service Projects in local communities across the county,” he said. “They want to demonstrate their love for their communities.

“I’ve been working with Lori Speller who has the Community Service kids and they want to do four projects around the county: they may go into Colerain and plant flowers, or pick up trash in Lewiston, or paint a building in Aulander.  They’ll get together with the town and decide what each project is.  They will get credit for it because it’s part of their graduation requirement,” he acknowledged.

“Thirty-eight per cent of children in Bertie County are food insecure according to the state,” Wesson concluded. “This simply means that they are often without adequate food or nutritionally supportive food during the month.”

If anyone would like to make a donation, make your checks payable to: Youth Bertie, Inc., P.O. Box 778, Windsor, N.C. 27983