CURRITUCK — Operating in its third school year, Currituck 4-H Backpacks for Kids has seen demand rise — especially this school year, according to Currituck County Extension Agent Ellen Owens, who heads up the program.
“I have seen the demand grow monthly during this school year,” Owens said.
The program sends backpacks of food home on weekends with elementary school students who are at-risk for hunger. At the start of this school year, it served 118 kids, but now serves 158.
“I think there are a lot of parents out of work, and times are hard, so it’s hitting people where it hurts,” Owens said.
The 4-H program costs about $3,000 per month to operate, she said.
A $20 donation feeds one child over the weekends during one month, according to the website.
The 4-H program has received “some small grant funds,” but operates for the most part out of private donations from individuals and from local businesses, Owens said.
Volunteers from the community and from the Sheriff’s Department take the backpacks to the five county elementary schools, she added.
The goal is to meet a need while increasing academic performance, because “when children go to school hungry, they don’t function as well in school,” she said.
School guidance counselors and nurses identify children in need and communicate only the number of children, with no names attached, to the 4-H office.
The company, VBL Technologies of Powells Point set up the program website last year, which gives people the option to donate through PayPal accounts, Owens said.
She has seen an increase in interest in supporting the program as the demand has risen.
“I think the word’s getting out there, and businesses are donating, individuals have called and churches are interested in giving,” she said. “People are recognizing there’s a big need out there.”
The backpack method was not an original idea, she noted; Feeding America, a national nonprofit, operates a similar program.
“We are grateful for the support of our community agencies, donors and volunteers that contribute to this program,” said Sandy Kinzel, assistant superintendent for Currituck County Schools.
“Students who receive this free service might otherwise go hungry over the weekend,” Kinzel said.
North Carolina ranks among the 10 states exhibiting statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average, according to Feeding America’s website data from 2000 to 2012.
More than one out of five children nationally lives in a household with food insecurity, meaning they do not always know where they will find their next meal, the website said.
The state’s high unemployment rate naturally contributes to food insecurity, the website noted.
“Public support is helping meet a big need in our community for children, and we continue to need their support,” Owens said.
For more information, visit www.backpacksforkidscurrituck.org.