Lake Norman & Mooresville

Backpack Meals Ministry helps feed needy kids on the weekends

Fewer children in Mooresville Graded and Iredell-Statesville schools are going to bed hungry on weekends. Food for Days: A Backpack Meals Ministry is the reason.

President John Saunders’ dream of feeding hungry children has become a reality. With the support of First Baptist Church, he began Backpack Meals Ministry five years ago. A few volunteers filled 10 backpacks for one school each week.

Since then, Backpack Meals has grown and evolved into Food for Days. Today the ministry has a permanent home at Suite 1B, 224 Rolling Hill Road. With 14 church partners and individual sponsors, the organization feeds children in all Mooresville schools and eight Iredell-Statesville schools.

Although other backpack ministries serve some I-SS schools, there’s a need for more. Food for Days plans to add two Iredell-Statesville schools. As the 501(c)3 nonprofit helps additional children, it requires the community’s help. Church partners, along with individual and corporate sponsors, are needed.

Volunteers are an integral component. They logged over 2,000 hours last year. One corporate sponsor, Niagara Water, donates bottled water and sends a team to the Mooresville packing site each Thursday.

For the first time, some children in a school are on a waiting list. Last year 30 children requested help. Due to changing circumstances, the number of youngsters requiring weekend meals has increased to 83.

With the help of a church partner, Food for Days is feeding 46 of the 83 kids. The organization needs another partner and/or sponsors to help feed the other 27 children.

“There is an urgency to get the word out,” said Karen Swan, executive administrator.

The nonprofit serves children who are identified by school counselors and participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Meal program.

A typical weekend menu consists of six meals, four snacks and two beverages. The organization buys nutritious food in bulk and relies on volunteers to pack bags and deliver them to schools for Friday distribution.

“We do the absolute best we can in trying to purchase food in large quantities and getting the cost of items down as much as we can,” said Swan.

An individual can sponsor one child for $250 a school year. That’s about $5.50 for meals over the weekend.

One mom wrote a note of appreciation when her family left Food for Days. Her husband, who had been out of work almost two years, had found a job.

Once a child is accepted, the youngster remains in the program until the family no longer requires help.

“It’s important to have sustainable support for children,” Swan said.

The ministry looks at the total needs of a child. Last year, a special grant from Rotary provided enough money to supply a hygiene kit for each student.

With that grant and funding from an individual sponsor, Food for Days also gave each child $10 to spend at book fairs.

One school offered a buy-one, get-one-free deal. A fourth-grader who had never owned a book bought four of them.

“A great aspect of the program is partnership. If a counselor has a need, there’s a contact,” Swan said.

Needs may differ. Some church partners supply extras, like hats and scarves. One provides gift cards at Christmas. All partners donate boxes of valentines in February.

Counselors attest to the program’s impact. Children are ready to learn when they arrive at school on Monday mornings, and their self-esteem has improved.

Since a summer roundup to collect food for the beginning of school was so successful, Food for Days implemented a fall/winter huddle for hygiene items. The list includes youth socks for boys and girls during December, large tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes in January and washcloths with bars of soap in February.

Donations can be dropped off at the Mooresville Public Library on Monday-Friday and at Food for Days on Monday and Wednesday mornings.