BRAFB’s BackPack Program Sends Students in Need Home with Food

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The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which operates on both sides of the mountain, has outreach programs that feed roughly 7,500 children. Among them is the BackPack Program, where volunteers help struggling families by sending their kids home every weekend with bags full of food.

Staple foods and snacks fill 800 bags that will head home with elementary students for the long break from school.

"The bags are double-packed today, because next week they're off from school. So we're trying to make sure they've got enough to tie them over till they get back," said Ruth Jones with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

Many of the groceries are easy-to-eat items like cereals and fruit cups.

"We've also switched in some cases to more family-style packs, where we're providing food for the entire family because chances are, if the child is food-insecure, the whole family is," said Jones.

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank says those families are often your co-workers, friends and neighbors. Luckily, so are the volunteers, who have come from all over Augusta County.

"People don't know that kids are going home hungry. That's the bottom line; people don't realize that. Maybe their kids are fed, their grandkids are fed, but maybe the kids down the street are not fed," said Cindy Davis, a volunteer at the food bank.

There's a good chance that's true. The regional food bank now helps provide for close to 60,000 people each month in the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia. Groceries literally go out the door just as quickly as they come in.

"It's staggering and we're just trying to keep up," said Jones.

Helping meet that demand is the Helping Hands Against Hunger campaign, which is collecting donations at Kroger stores on both sides of the Blue Ridge.

The BackPack Program targets schools with higher rates of students receiving free and reduced lunch, including elementary schools in Albemarle, Augusta and Fluvanna counties, and the city of Waynesboro.