Backpack Buddies: Serving a Vulnerable Population

By August 7, 2016Featured Ministry

A food desert is defined as an area that lacks access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful foods, and is usually found in impoverished areas. This is due both to the absence of grocery stores and the lack of personal vehicles, necessitating spending money on transportation rather than food.

One of the largest food deserts in our state, based on population, is found in the Neck of Charleston and spans from just north of Grove Street in Charleston to Remount Road in North Charleston. Right in the middle of this area is Morningside Middle School. The school is located along the railroad tracks in the Liberty Hill area of North Charleston and their immediate neighbors include a mortuary and an automobile salvage yard. This is the school where the Backpack Buddies ministry at St. Andrew’s is making an impact.

Backpack Buddies programs are found throughout the country and though none are officially affiliated with others, the premise is the same. Many impoverished students are considered to be “food insecure.” It’s a fancy term that means that the children don’t always know when they will eat their next meal. Many children who receive free lunches at school don’t always get meals in the evenings or on the weekends. Their families can’t always afford to feed them or they experience significant parental neglect. Backpack Buddies helps to fill that gap in feeding over the weekends by providing single serving foods that require little to no preparation.

Backpack Buddies and St. Andrew’s

Many years ago, Harriet Futch was a Special Education teacher at Stall High School in North Charleston. The school nurse was working with a program to feed their students over the weekends. She enlisted Harriet’s help in putting together food for the students to take home and Harriet used the opportunity to teach her students life skills. The children learned and refined skills by sorting and packing the food each week for other students.

From these beginnings, Harriet and her husband, Henry, recruited their LifeGroup to help with their burgeoning ministry.

The members of the Futch’s LifeGroup purchase food each month at Sams Club or Costco or from the local grocery store. They bring the food to the church and sort it into individual bags of 11-12 items. Each bag could contain canned fruit, pork and beans, juice, snack crackers, applesauce, or oatmeal. Every month the group packs around 240 bags – that’s over 2600 items that they move through their ministry every month.

The bags of food are placed in large bins and are delivered to Morningside Middle School and from there the food is distributed. Guidance counselors and Communities in Schools representatives have a good handle on the home situation of their students and they decide who receives the food each month.

Many of the ministries that members of St. Andrew’s are involved in are hands-on ministries. Members who serve a specific population meet, interact, and many times become involved in the lives of those whom they serve. Backpack Buddies, however, is a “blind” ministry meaning that those who are involved never get a chance to see the direct fruit of their labors. This is done in order to preserve the dignity and privacy of those receiving assistance.

Backpack Buddies’ Impact

Even though the Futch’s LifeGroup don’t see what happens after they drop off the food, they do hear from the guidance counselors about their impact and they have a good understanding of the difference their work makes.

  • The LifeGroup served Lincoln High School until its recent closure, serving children from one of the poorest areas of Charleston County.
  • They were told of the little boy who couldn’t wait to get a bag each week because it always had applesauce in it and he loves applesauce.
  • Their group began serving a school in Greeleyville in Williamsburg County when they heard the school had no program. Eventually, they were able to get the local food bank to step in and serve the community.
  • They were told of the children from the same household who sat down on the floor each week to see what was in their bags. Once they had it all spread out, they decided together which foods they would eat for each meal, rationing it so that it would last throughout the weekend.

How to Contribute

The group always welcomes contributions of single serving foods from the congregation. Talking about hunger in our communities and shopping together for food for other children is an excellent way to introduce children to needs around us. Single servings of the following foods are especially needed. The food can be dropped off in the hallway of Caitlin Annex, marked for Backpack Buddies.

  • Oatmeal
  • Applesauce
  • Raisins
  • Juice
  • Pork and Beans
  • Beanie Weanies
  • Soup
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Snack Crakers (nabs)

For more information about Backpack Buddies at St. Andrew’s and how you can help, please contact Harriet Futch (HarrietFutch@gmail.com).