Backpack Buddies celebrates 20 years of fighting hunger

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Volunteers are all smiles at a recent packing event for Backpack Buddies. COURTESY BACKPACK BUDDIES HILTON HEAD

One out of every five children in American struggles with hunger.

Joe Kerr doesn't know the exact statistics for Hilton Head Island, but as chairman of the board of directors of Backpack Buddies of Hilton Head, he is extremely proud of the work that this organization is doing to address the nutritional needs of school children on this island.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the group's efforts to help end hunger among our school children - and the board is not going to let that milestone go unnoticed. Board member Betsy Doughtie is chairing a committee that has begun planning events for the coming school year.

The plan is to have one major event each month. The events will be designed to celebrate the organization's success, to raise awareness of the importance of their mission and to raise funds to insure that the program continues for years to come.

The kick-off event will be a pancake breakfast to be held Sept. 15 at Skillets Restaurant, 1 N. Forest Beach Drive. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. that day, any purchase of a $10 short stack of pancakes will render an $8 donation to Backpack Buddies. No reservations are needed; it's first come, first served.

As the signature program of the Hunger Coalition of the Lowcountry, the mission of Backpack Buddies is to end hunger among school children on Hilton Head by providing nutritious meals to at-risk children on weekends. These children qualify for free or reduced price meals at school during the week; the Backpack Buddies food is designed to provide breakfast and lunch over the weekend.

What began in 2009 as a program serving 40 students out of one packing site has grown to include 250 students getting weekend meals. Volunteers now gather at four sites to assemble bags that will go out to Hilton Head's elementary schools to be distributed to children each Friday.

Backpack Buddies is a multi-faith organization whose partners include St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church, St. Andrew By-the-Sea Methodist Church, Christ Lutheran Church, Hilton Head Island Community Church, and Congregation Beth Yam. The 120 volunteers who serve the organization come from those congregations; four of their buildings serve as packing sites.

In addition to the significant increase in the number of elementary children served, the program has grown on many other levels. A partnership with Kroger at Shelter Cove makes it possible for the weekend offerings to include fresh fruit.

The program now also includes supplementary healthy food for nutritionally underserved students at Hilton Head Island Middle School and Hilton Head Island High School.

Donations from Carolina Seafood and Produce allow the program to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to children participating in Neighborhood Outreach Connection's after school and summer programs.

To learn more about the coming events, to learn more about the organization or to become a volunteer, visit backpackbuddieshh.org.

Carole Galli is a volunteer with Backpack Buddies of Hilton Head, and serves on the anniversary committee.

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