Joe P. Asher
Through efforts of the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce and the generous giving of area residents, school children who may have gone hungry on the weekends won’t be as likely to do so now.
Chamber of commerce members have been collecting food for The Weekend Backpack Program which aids children who might otherwise go without food on weekends when school is out.
Vice President Aimee Cupp Blanton said the program has been on-going for several years, but the demand is increasing as a result of the difficult economic conditions being experienced by many families in the Harlan County and Harlan Independent school districts.
“This was brought to the attention of Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital a few years ago, and ARH just jumped on it and ran with it,” said Cupp. “We have several members of our chamber that are affiliated with ARH. Last year, the chamber sponsored a food drive for the Weekend Backpack Program to supplement what the hospital was doing. This year we continued that,” said Blanton.
Blanton explained the workings of the backpack program.
“They’re given a backpack of food on Friday to take home with them over the weekend. The backpack is to be returned on Monday so the FRYSC (Family Resource and Youth Services Center) coordinators can refill it for the following Friday,” said Blanton. “Both the school districts here in Harlan — the independent and the county — participate in this program.”
Blanton said a large percentage of students in Harlan County benefit from the program.
“I don’t have the exact numbers, but the county school is servicing probably close to 800 kids every Friday, and the city school district is servicing about 50,” said Blanton.
Harlan County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard noted many students are dependent upon the school breakfast and lunch programs, adding the backpack program keeps them from going without food until they return to the cafeterias on Monday morning.
“I don’t think many people comprehend how important this program is to these kids. Without the backpack program, a lot of kids would have nothing all weekend,” said Howard.
Children will be receiving food items that require little or no preparation, including small boxes of cereal, granola bars, crackers, juice boxes, tuna, soups and fruit cups.
Billie Lewis, Harlan County school district supervisor for the FRYSC, pointed out the program has grown in recent months.
“Some have doubled and others have even tripled their numbers for the program as a result of the current economic conditions,” said Lewis.
According to Lewis, the people of Harlan County have given a lot to help these kids this year, considering the current state of the local economy and their own financial challenges.
“We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of generosity from the people of Harlan County for their donations during this time when so many themselves are financially strapped,” said Lewis. “We definitely appreciate all the efforts of the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce for their hard work with the backpack food drive.”
Harlan Indpendent FRYSC Director Debby Howard agrees.
In a note to the chamber of commerce, she said, “The assortment of food that was collected is just incredible. This will be helpful for several weeks to come… The timing was great, arriving at the end of the month” when the need increases.
Blanton said both school districts accept donations for the program year round. To make a donation, contact Debby Howard at Harlan Independent by calling 573-8700 or Lewis at the Harlan County Board of Education by calling 573-4330, extension 2015.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-573-4510 or firstname.lastname@example.org