YEP exists for a reason—to promote inspiring people, worthwhile endeavors, progressive ideas, and memorable stories. It’s pretty simple, which is why when we heard about Berkeley County BackPack (WV), we knew we needed to get the word out.
The coordinator of this young program is Jennifer Yeater, of Hedgesville, WV. Her involvement began when she was a member of Pampered Chefs, a home-based cooking business. At the time, she had been donating money to Feeding America—an organization with one goal: to feed hungry children in this country. As time passed, Yeater felt that her money wasn’t necessarily going far enough, and that she could perhaps take it to another level—the local level.
A frightening, and often overlooked, reality in this country is the overwhelming amount of children that continue to go hungry day in and day out. According to Feeding America’s website: “Nearly 14 million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 3 million of which are ages 5 and under.” The site goes on to explain: “According to the USDA, over 16 million children lived in food insecure (low food security and very low food security) households in 2010.”
Feeding America’s mission is to “feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.” The organization utilizes a network of 200 member food banks nationwide, and provides over three billion pounds of food and grocery products every year. Within Feeding America is the BackPack program, which is designed to feed some of the more than eighteen million children in America that rely on free or reduced-priced food in school. Some of these youngsters simply come to school so they can eat.
Yeater discovered the program in her research and decided it was exactly what she was looking for—and something that would be perfect for Berkeley County. The program is designed to meet the needs of hungry children by providing child-friendly, nonperishable, easily consumed, and vitamin fortified food—discreetly distributed in backpacks to children on the last day before the weekend or holiday season.
The program was officially approved by the National Council of Feeding America in 2006. There are now nearly 4,000 BackPack programs around the country, serving nearly 200,000 children. Thanks to Yeater, Berkeley County’s program began operating last year.
Under Yeater’s leadership, this is basically how it unfolds. A transport truck pulls into the old Lowe’s parking lot in Martinsburg on the first Thursday of every month. The truck is unloaded by volunteers, and the food is taken to the Hedgesville Assembly of God Church for storage. Guidance counselors at participating schools send confidential letters to parents, giving them the chance to have their children participate in the program. The food eventually makes its way into individual food-filled backpacks that end up in the hands and over the shoulders of the children who need them most. It’s a very discreet and endearing exchange—and one that can serve as either a simple reassurance or a life-changing act of kindness.
The food for Berkeley County is provided by Feeding America Mountaineer Food Bank, in Gassaway, WV. Yeater wants to remind the Eastern Panhandle, as well as the surrounding communities, that donations are always needed, and appreciated. There are two drop-off locations: Kisner Communications, in The Living Room (Berkeley Plaza, Martinsburg), and Bank of Charles Town, in Hedgesville. Donations are another way to support the program—any type of contribution ultimately leads to a hungry child in Berkeley County receiving some food to make it through the weekend, or a long holiday.
Eighty children received meals once a week last year through Berkeley County BackPack; the program hopes to feed at least one hundred this year. Some of the students were even able to receive services throughout the summer. Additionally, high school students are being added to the program this fall. All food allergies are addressed through the participating schools and guidance departments, and the program is even set up in such a way that students can share their food with siblings at home.