John Saunders of Mooresville knew far too many schoolchildren go hungry each weekend, so he started a ministry to help keep more of their bellies full.
Thanks to Backpack Meals Ministry, about 100 Mooresville-area students in need will go home each Friday this school year with backpacks containing six nutritious meals.
Saunders, 83, has worked in ministries and missions in several states since 1953. He started Backpack Meals Ministry in September 2010 after hearing on the radio of a similar effort elsewhere.
The program has since expanded from one school and one church to six Mooresville schools and volunteers from four churches, two Rotary clubs and the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.
Saunders and Beverly, his wife of 63 years, attend First Baptist Church in Mooresville, where Senior Pastor Jerry Cloninger enthusiastically endorsed the effort.
"We're hoping to make a better student," Saunders said. "A healthy student is a more productive student."
On Saturday, residents can help by visiting the Food Lion store at 971 N. Main St. in Mooresville. Saunders and other volunteers will have tables outside and will hand out information sheets. The fliers will list $5 or $6 in foods shoppers can buy that day for the backpacks.
School officials approved the food and drinks that go into the backpacks, Saunders said, including oatmeal, cereal, tuna, soup, puddings, macaroni and cheese and SpaghettiOs.
"These are all items that can be eaten with just a little bit of heat or right out of the box," Saunders said.
The ministry will provide backpacks to students in need at South, Parkview, Rocky River and Woodland Heights elementary schools and Mooresville and East intermediate schools.
Saunders has been able to provide the meals thanks to First Baptist, St. Mark's Lutheran and Peninsula Baptist churches, The Bridge Church of the Nazarene, the Mooresville and Top of the Lake Rotary clubs and the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.
"Many of these children would have been hungry over the weekend if it wasn't for this ministry," Rocky River Elementary counselor Tracey Cubert said in an email. "It was great to see the smiles on the students' faces when they received their food backpacks each Friday."
"A big, heartfelt thank you goes to Pastor Saunders and his wonderful team at First Baptist of Mooresville for helping end hunger for so many needy families," Cubert said.
Saunders said the need is great and that hundreds more students can benefit from the ministry in the Mooresville area alone.
He said he learned from Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District, that 43 percent of children in the school system receive government-sponsored free breakfasts and lunches at school. Counselors and teachers told him how students in need devour breakfast and lunch at school each Monday, indicating they didn't get much to eat over the weekend.
Residents can help by showing up at the Food Lion between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday or contacting Saunders at 704-664-2324 or johnS@fbcmooresville.com.