Grant funds free meals for Fort Valley backpack program

Center for Collaborative JournalismApril 10, 2013 

More than 40 children at the Boys & Girls Club in Fort Valley have a few free meals because of a new backpack program.

Feed The City, a nonprofit that works on hunger projects, started the program to help children have access to nutritious food and encourage healthy eating habits.

Feed The City was one of 40 organizations chosen to receive Walmart’s “Golden Sparks” award, a grant of $50,000, according to a news release. The award is intended to support or start a backpack program in a community of the recipient’s choice.

Feed The City Director Jennifer Walker, said, “We chose that particular location (in Fort Valley) because we knew of the free and reduced (lunch) rates.”

The Georgia Department of Education reports nearly 75 percent of students in Peach County receive a free or reduced lunch.

The Boys & Girls Club, New Hope International Food Bank and Fort Valley State University’s social work department are working together to help with the project.

Walker said the program had a kickoff celebration on March 8, where children helped volunteers make smoothies, which she said was a fun lesson on healthy eating.

“Really the whole basis of the program is health and wellness. It’s starting as a food program, but we are hoping to kind of expand out to be able to help them out in different ways as well,” said Walker.

Samantha Jefferson, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Macon County Elementary School, said her daughter, Sametryce, 11, was looking forward to the bags of food.

“It comes in a paper bag, and we get vegetables, macaroni and cheese, granola bars, oatmeal. It’s nutritious,” said Jefferson. “She loves the macaroni and cheese. She looks forward to getting it, I know, on Fridays. She always likes to see what’s in the bag.”

Jefferson said the program has introduced new foods to her daughter, like Mandarin oranges.

She said Sametryce’s favorite item is the microwavable macaroni and cheese.

“At home we weren’t purchasing that; I wasn’t buying that. But when she started this food program, that’s when she started being interested in foods she wasn’t trying at home.”

Jefferson said she has started to buy new things at the grocery store because of her daughter’s new food interests.

“She wasn’t eating a whole lot of fruity fruit. Mainly what I was getting at home (was) like fruit cocktail (and) peaches. Now we get apple sauce. That’s fairly new.”

Denise McCrary, executive director of Fort Valley’s Boys & Girls Club, said she thinks everyone has enjoyed the program so far.

“The thing about this program is that there’s no limitation on an income level or your need and stuff like that. It’s just to provide the food and have it available for the children on the weekends.”

Walker said the program will last three years, but she hopes to receive more funding with its success.

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