Jenkins works to make sure children don’t go hungry

Published 9:25 am Monday, February 6, 2017

Angela Jenkins, wants to make sure children in Warren County don’t go to bed hungry.

Jenkins established the Weekend Backpack Program in 2015 to help ensure area school children have nutritious meals over the weekends when they’re away from school. The program, in which children receive backpacks of food each Friday during the school year, is now in its second year.

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The idea for the program, she said, came while she was looking for community service projects for the Vicksburg Rotary Club, “And this one (a backpack program) caught my eye.”

The program, called “America’s Backpack.” The program fills backpacks with food for children to take home to help ensure they receive sufficient nutrition at home.

There was another reason.

“I was not aware that a lot of kids go home hungry in the evening and they come to school hungry in the morning,” she said. “My mother works in the school district, so I talked to her about it, and she said it was true. So we wanted to stand in the gap between the household and the school.”

But the cost of working through the America’s Backpack program, which is a national children’s nutrition program, was too prohibitive, so Jenkins began her program. “I felt I could do it cheaper,” she said. “This program mimics the national program.”

Under the Weekend Backpack Program, Jenkins and other volunteers fill backpacks with enough food for each child in the house for Saturday and Sunday.

“We give each child two lunches, two drinks, two breakfasts and four snacks,” she said.

The children are selected for the program by the counselors at the program’s five partner schools — Dana Road Elementary, Vicksburg Intermediate School, Sherman Avenue Elementary, Warren Central Intermediate and the alternative school.

“The counselors identify the children as food impoverished, and they make a referral form to me and then we send the form home and a permission slip for the parents to sign so it’s OK to participate in the program,” Jenkins said. “Because the counselors work with the kids every day, they know the ones that are hungry. Last year, we served 129 kids.”

The backpacks are delivered to the school and assigned to the children, who pickup the full backpacks on Friday and return them to the counselor’s office on Monday to be refilled. The child is identified only by a number in the inside of the backpack, and their names are known only to Jenkins and the counselor.

“The volunteers who come (to help) don’t know the kids,” she said.

Jenkins and the volunteers meet each Thursday during the school year in the delivery area of United Way of West Central Mississippi building to pack the backpacks and load them into containers to be delivered Friday for the students. She delivers the full packs to three schools, while her mother delivers packs to two of the schools.

Jenkins purchases the food, “And we get a lot of food donations as well. People buy food and we’ve had organizations donate food and backpacks.”

She said the response to the program has been fantastic.

“We’ve gotten letters from parents thanking us for helping them, because some parents work on the weekend and aren’t home with the kids, and everything we provide for the kids they can fix themselves. There’s nothing you have to cook on a stove.

“We’re actually looking for more kids,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of food to give away, and we’re looking to give it away because we know the kids need it.”

She said she also wants to help kids during the summer, but needs a partner to help distribute food and identify the kids during the summer.

“I want to continue this forever,” she said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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