By Lea Hurt---May 2009---When the school bell rings Monday morning, elementary students in Anne Arundel County pour through the doors for reading, writing, arithmetic and, for many, the first solid meal since lunch on Friday.
Times are tough. Census data, as indicated in a 2008 report by the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel, shows over 9,000 children in our county live in poverty. Many of these children don't have enough to eat and rely on subsidized breakfast and lunch offered by the school system. But that only takes care of meals Monday through Friday. What happens to these children over the weekend?
In answer to this question, Heritage Baptist Church paired with Georgetown East Elementary School for Backpack Buddies, a volunteer program in which local churches or charity groups work with elementary schools to identify and assist children in need.
Backpack Buddies began when a teacher in Texas noticed a pattern of problem behavior among students on Mondays. She reviewed test scores, poverty levels and behavior patterns and decided that many of these children were simply hungry. She enlisted the help of her church to pack ready-to-eat food and snacks in small backpacks and give them to needy children each Friday. Empty backpacks are returned on Mondays to be refilled for the next weekend. The results were very positive and many similar programs are running around the country. (Photo right: Jeanine Salyers and Frankie Morehead)
At Heritage, former Missions Committee chair Mary Ann Fulford along with church members Frankie Morehead and Jeanine Salyers contacted Georgetown East early in 2009 with the Backpack Buddies proposal. Heritage member Linda Garverick works in the front office at Georgetown East and helped ensure the request was directed appropriately. The school identified students in need and sent permission letters home, along with questions regarding food allergies and access to a microwave oven. Fifteen students signed up for the program. (Photo left: Mary Ann Fulford packs food while Mrs. Morehead and Amanda check lists )
In March as this program moved forward, HBC organizers kicked into high gear, requesting food and monetary donations from church members. An anonymous donor at Heritage provided sturdy black backpacks. Members donated sacks of non-perishable food items, supplemented by food from Food Link and the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. Monetary donations were used to purchase food at a discount from the Maryland Food Bank. A new shelving area was created for Backpack Buddies food storage and the program blossomed. (Photo right: Mrs. Fulford and John Michael at Backpack Buddies storage shelves, HBC)
Volunteers and the church's Children's Mission Class pack bags of food on Wednesday nights. Along with the work comes a lesson. On a recent Wednesday night, Mary Ann Fulford explained this program to the children, bringing home the message of helping others in need. The message seemed to take root as the children circled the table, checking and rechecking to make sure each bag had what was needed.
Food items provided include soup, applesauce, juice boxes, tuna pouches, peanut butter, crackers, boxes of raisins, individual cereal bowls, boxed milk, single-servings of macaroni & cheese or other meal items with flip-top lids. Volunteers keep one thing foremost in mind: each sack must be filled with items a child could prepare by himself. (Photo left: Amanda, Mrs. Fulford, Emily Morehead and John Michael fill sacks with food)
On April 16, the first delivery to Georgetown East was made. The sacks were placed in the backpacks and distributed to students the following day, Friday. On Monday morning, 15 empty backpacks were returned to school, with one little boy saying, "It's like we have our own special club."
Heritage will continue this program with Georgetown East for the remainder of this school year and will pick up again when the school year starts in 2009. According to Mrs. Fulford, they have adequate food supplies for the few weeks left in this school year, and want to avoid having food expire over the summer. The Missions Committee will kick off a new food drive in August of 2009. (Photo Right: Backpack Buddies volunteer Emma)
They would, however, appreciate monetary donations to help prepare for next year. If you would care to donate, make your check payable to Heritage Baptist Church and notate "Backpack Buddies." One hundred percent of the money donated goes directly to the purchase of food for the children.
If you know of a church or charitable group interested in partnering with a local school for Backpack Buddies, the HBC Missions Committee will be happy to share information. You may contact them through
For more photos of this mission in action, see our picture gallery.