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BACKPACK BUDDIES CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF FEEDING STUDENTS

Janet Weingarten had only been living on Hilton Head Island for a short time before she noticed something that wasn’t listed on any of the tourism or real estate brochures.

“It’s almost a rite of passage when you move here,” she said. “You see gated communities. Then you start driving down side roads and you see a large part of the population. There are hungry families there.

”Feeling that she wanted to help,Weingarten began working with a coalition of area organizations, starting with Congregation Beth Yam, to help feed these families. And thus, Backpack Buddies was born. Now in its 10th year, the organization provides nutritious meals to underserved children at area schools. While various programs allow for free or reduced-price lunches during the school week, they don’t address the problems students have finding meals on the weekends. That’s where Backpack Buddies steps in, collecting food at four different collection points to be distributed to schools every Friday to help keep kids fed when school is out.

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“In our first year, we fed 50 children, giving public school kids two meals for the two days over the weekend,” she said. “We’re now feeding 300 kids in the elementary schools and providing food to middle schools and high schools. The kids grow up, and the hunger doesn’t go away.”

As the organization has grown, other groups have joined the effort. In addition to Beth Yam, Backpack Buddies also receives support from First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head, St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church, St. Andrew By-The-Sea Methodist Church, Christ Lutheran Church and Hilton Head Island Community Church.

Backpack Buddies also now pro-vides food to groups like Neighborhood Outreach Committee to distribute to kids during after-school and summer programs, and it’s developing partnerships with Kroger at Shelter Cove Towne Centre and Carolina Seafood and Produce to improve its offerings of healthy foods.

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“I’ve been very thankful for the community support that we get,” Weingarten said. “It’s all local support. Businesses as well as different grant endowment organizations have been very good to us.”

backpack4She also said the organization couldn’t have been successful without the help of local social workers and school personnel, as well as the more than 100 volunteers who work to collect and distribute meals. Weingarten said the volunteers often get as much out of the program as the kids, truly relishing the opportunity to play a hands-on role in their community.

“So many people at our age haven’t had time to do hands-on volunteer work. I wrote checks but I never had time to do volunteer work,” Weingarten said. “We wanted to design a program to give people the opportunity to be hands-on — to do the packing and drive food to schools.”

Backpack Buddies might be filling students’ stomachs, but the work is filling Weingarten’s soul.

“It really has been the most rewarding part of my life,” she said. “To be able to help at a grass-roots level and see the difference we make in these kids’ lives, there’s been nothing like that.”

Jazz Brunch for Backpack Buddies

Backpack Buddies of Hilton Head will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a New Orleans-style jazz brunch from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at The Jazz Corner that will featuring bottomless mimosas and performances by Dave Masteller & The Jazz Corner Ensemble. Tickets are $60 a person and all proceeds help feed area chil-dren. For tickets, go to www.backpackbuddieshh.org.

HOW TO HELP

Backpack Buddies is always looking for volunteers to transport food from collection sites to schools. Volunteers must be able to lift more than 40 pounds and have a car. For more information, go to www.backpack-buddieshh.org.


Have a milestone coming up? email Anuska Frey at publisher@hiltonheadmonthly.com