(12/22/20) LEESVILLE, La. — Many children look forward to the time they get time off from school for holidays.
For some, however, these breaks can be a difficult time. During holidays, children who rely on their school cafeterias for regular meals may find themselves at home with little to eat.
To help make sure these kids have something to eat during the Christmas break, 4-H members and volunteers in Vernon Parish recently collected food items and delivered them to more than 300 students in need at local schools. The 4-H’ers do the same thing three times a year: before the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays.
“This project started 15 or so years ago with the pleading of one of our adult volunteers to the Vernon Parish 4-H Teen Leader Club after she found one of her students digging in the garbage can after a pizza party at her school,” said Kemberly Johnson, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent. The child was searching for leftovers to take home to feed younger siblings.
4-H Clubs in the parish compete with one another to see which group can collect the most food. The competition is called the Backpack Challenge.
“Our 4-H Teen Leader Club sorts the items and then bags them into plastic grocery bags that can be slipped into a child’s backpack to keep it private,” Johnson said. “They fill the bags, and then volunteers deliver them to the schools.”
School counselors help identify students who need the food. The bags are filled with nonperishable items that are easy for kids to open and eat by themselves, such as granola bars, peanut butter, crackers, macaroni and cheese cups, raisin boxes and cereal.
Johnson said local churches pitch in as well as individuals who walk in to the parish office wanting to donate to the cause. Money also is raised using a GoFundMe account online.
About 23% of children in Vernon Parish live in poverty, according to 2019 U.S. Census data. Many of these children face hunger issues.
“When students are not in school, they may not get the nutrition they need for proper growth and development,” Johnson said. “By sending these students home with a backpack filled with nutritious, nonperishable foods and snacks, the students are getting some of their dietary needs met when school is out for the holidays.”
Vernon Parish 4-H'ers stand with food items they collected to be delivered to local students in need ahead of the Christmas break. Photo provided by Vernon Parish 4-H
Vernon Parish 4-H’ers sort food donations to be delivered to local students in need ahead of the Christmas break. Photo provided by Vernon Parish 4-H
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture