By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
“TGIF” is a welcoming rally cry as the weekend comes in sight, but some schoolchildren don’t relish the thought of a couple of days without food. While childhood obesity issues have cooked up attention all the way to the White House, there are still homes where children go hungry and the only hot meals for growling tummies are served at school.
In Stillwater, the Weekend Food Sacks for Children Project tries to alleviate hunger. The program is a grassroots effort led by Glenna Williams who operates the project from the First United Methodist Church basement. She started the program more than eight years ago because “as a community, we need to take care of our own children as much as possible.”
Williams worked with another backpack program but they required the community to pay for food which was sacked in Oklahoma City and she felt she could put together a more nutritious food sack at a lower cost using local volunteers.
“We really appreciate the weekend sacks and all the volunteers working to get the food to the kids. Some families are really struggling out there,” said Susan Brien, Highland Park Elementary School counselor. “There are children that only eat at school because there is no food in their house. Many children count on getting their food sack on Friday.”
Brien said the food sacks ensure some students don’t return to school on Monday starving. The sacks are filled with nutritious food that a child can easily open and eat without cooking or preparation tasks. Williams orders and purchases the food in bulk. Individuals and civic groups unload and separate food items in an assembly line once a month.
“Food is stored in case lots and a u-shaped production line is set up on tables,” said volunteer sacker, Billy Wallace, a member of Stillwater Rotary Club. “Over 800 sacks were filled this month.”
A core group of volunteers deliver the sacks to all the Stillwater Public School elementary schools, Head Start, Early Head Start and Richmond Early Childhood. Each volunteer has adopted a school with the group delivering over 200 weekend food sacks on Thursdays.
Counselors and teachers take note of children who are constantly hungry and make sure they receive a weekend food sack. No one volunteering in the project knows who receives the food as the counselors and teachers keep the children’s identities confidential.
The schools can tell which children are not getting enough to eat on the weekends, Williams said.
“Some children are chronically hungry and always asking for seconds in the cafeteria,” Brien said. “Students are excited to get the food sacks and it’s a great service to help families having a tough time.”
The sacks contain food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can be opened easily including raisins, apple sauce, fruit and vegetable cups, Vienna sausages, cheese crackers, cereal bars, pudding and animal crackers. The children can just slip the sack in their own backpacks inconspicuously. It’s not meals for the whole weekend, just a supplement to what they may or may not be getting at home, Williams said.
Weekend Food Sacks for Children Project is entirely funded by area residents.
“Many people get us confused with the backpack program,” Williams said. “We are totally private and use no government funds, so there is not any extra paperwork for the schools.”
“Elite Repeat, the resale store downtown, has partnered with us — keeping us financially strong over the years,” Williams said. “Although the church provides us with facility space, this is not just a Methodist program — it’s a community project.”
Donations are tax deductible. If you would like to make a monetary contribution, contact Glenna Williams, Weekend Food Sacks for Children Project, c/o First United Methodist Church, 400 W. 7th, Stillwater, OK 74074.