Dozens of North Hills Elementary students left school with a little something extra in their book bags Friday.
The school – where 99 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch – partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and three area churches to create the Back Pack Program earlier this year. Through the program, 50 students at the predominantly black and Hispanic school receive bags each Friday containing non perishable, nutritious snacks to share with their families over the weekend.
The program was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation that was awarded to the Food Bank for North Hills and four other Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools last spring. The North Hills program is supported by members of Piney Grove Baptist, Mount Tabor United Methodist and St. Paul United Methodist churches, who show up to pack the children’s book bags each Friday. When the grant expires at the end of the year, the churches will partner to raise the funds needed to keep it going, explained North Hills Principal Dr. Karen Morning Roseboro. The collaboration of the three churches – one white and two black – is one of the many perks of the program, Roseboro said.
“It’s really unique because all of the three churches come from very diverse backgrounds and have more in common than they realize, which is North Hills,” she said. “We all know on Sundays we’re segregated, but they’re coming here and they’re united for a specific cause and that’s to fight childhood hunger and that’s what we think is such a beautiful thing.”
The back pack program is one of several North Hills offers to its families. The school also hosts an adult GED program, ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and other parent-enrichment events.
“We don’t just care about the academics,” Roseboro said. “We’re really interested in the social and emotional stability of the families that we’re working with.”
The school began distributing weekend meals in September.
“The kids are very excited. They love the program,” reported Gregory Wilson, the school’s parental involvement coordinator. “We got feedback from families as well, parents calling and saying how happy they are that the students are receiving food for the weekend. It provides nourishment and food for families who otherwise may not have this opportunity.”
Wilson, a 2009 alumnus of Winston-Salem State University, said the program helps foster a stronger relationship between parents and the school that could translate to increased parental involvement down the road.
“Once you have programs like this, the parents get a sense that you’re here to help them and you’re here to support them by any means necessary,” he declared. “It definitely boosts parent involvement.”
A steady stream of youngsters filed into the room designated for the Back Pack Program last week, many of them rewarding volunteers Marcia Baker, Carolyn Brown and Beatrice Reese with wide smiles and enthusiastic thanks.
Reese, a retired R.J. Reynolds employee and Piney Grove member for the past eight years, was volunteering for the third time Friday and said she had completely fallen in love with the program.
“I love people. I love giving. It’s just such a rewarding feeling,” commented Reese, who also serves on Piney Grove’s Missionary, Nursing and Operation Inasmuch ministries. “I love feeding people and that’s why I enjoy it so much.”
Brown, a retired AT&T employee, is new to the program, but said it didn’t take long for her to realize why her fellow Piney Grove members rave about it.
“This is my first time, but I’m just loving this little experience here,” she declared. “Our children are going through so much today, and to be able to give them some food, some snacks for the weekend is a beautiful thing.”
Baker, a retired speech therapist, has served as the liaison between Mount Tabor UMC and North Hills for the past year and a half. After working in public schools for over three decades, Baker said she is all too familiar with the need for initiatives like the Back Pack Program.
“Having been a school employee for so many years, I know that a lot of our kids have needs,” related the South Carolina native. “No child should be hungry, and no child is going to do well in school if they’re hungry, so I know how important it is.”
Baker oversees a variety of initiatives the church hosts for North Hills, including its signature “Stuff the Bus” program, where members collect backpacks and school supplies for the children. She says Mount Tabor and its two partners have their work cut out for them with respect to the Back Pack Program.
“We were blessed when they got the grant this year. In the future, one of our tasks will be to figure out how we can raise the money, and I’m sure we will,” she said. “God is speaking directly to us and saying ‘This is the need.’ I think it’s going to be a great thing for the churches and the kids.”