Matthews HELP Center needs food donations to prepare for school year
by Morgan Smith
One local nonprofit is clearing their shelves, making room for new supplies to ensure kids in Matthews will have food to eat once school starts in August.
But they need your help to make it happen.
The Matthews HELP Center’s BounceBack Backpack program plans to supply 60 students across south Mecklenburg with snacks and meals over the weekends for kids on free and reduced lunch for the 2012-13 school year. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Matthews and Crown Point elementary schools and Greenway Park Elementary in south Charlotte benefit from the program.
Kelly Trott, a social worker for the program, said many of the students on free and reduced lunch don’t have the quality nutrition they need after leaving schools on Friday and spending the weekend at home. Some kids are left to take care of themselves while parents are away at work.
So the HELP Center started their program three years ago, to ensure area kids have the nutrition they need, starting the program with 20 backpacks the first year and 50 last year.
Now they’ve added 10 more kids to the list and are excited to make an even greater impact.
“Spending 13 years as a social worker with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, I know our classrooms are scattered with hungry children. With community support, we could effect change,” Kim Rhodarmer, executive director of the center, said in an email.
Without the proper nutrition, students cannot perform their best and sometimes come to school after the weekend tired and weak and lacking concentration, Trott said.
The program “doesn’t only supplement a child’s diet, but also helps them with their anxiety and their concentration,” she added.
The program consists of four different menus with different varieties each month. The HELP Center has two food pantries, one for groceries for local families, and one for the backpack program. Each week, volunteers pack the backpacks with breakfast items, fruits and veggies and quick-fix easy meals that kids could make on their own. They deliver the packs to the schools just in time for kids to take them home on the weekends.
But right now, the backpack pantry is nearly empty.
“We’re trying to actually fill in every weekend of our calendar through the school year so we know we have people to give food,” Trott said, challenging and encouraging area churches and businesses to make a weekend commitment and provide food to fill the packs. “People don’t have to adopt entire weekends, but can just (commit) to donate specific items.”
During the past two years, Trott said, the nonprofit has been able to deliver to students every weekend.
“We’ve been able to fill all of them,” Trott said, “but now we’re growing. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes we’ve had to (substitute) items because we didn’t have them all. But it’s a pure joint effort between churches, businesses and individuals.”
Major items needed are canned chicken and canned tuna, chicken and tuna helper, cereal bars, instant oatmeal and grits packets, canned fruits and vegetables in their own juice or water and canned pastas. For safety, the center asks for no glass containers and they prefer pop-top cans. They also accept monetary donations, as each backpack costs around $10 to fill.
“This program is important so (children) don’t have to worry about when their next meal is going to be,” Trott said, “so they can concentrate on school and on being a child.”
Want to help?
To find out ways you can help with the BounceBack Backpack program, call Kelly Trott at 704-847-8383, ext. 231, or email email@example.com. To see a list of menu items and urgent needs for the program, visit www.matthewshelpcenter.org.