Pallets of pasta and cases of canned food line the basement at Holy Trinity
Lutheran Church in Gastonia.
The lower level of the church has become the storehouse for the BackPack
Weekend Food Program, an effort to keep students’ stomachs from
rumbling over the weekend by giving them enough food to provide breakfast,
lunch, dinner and snacks over the weekends that school is in session.
Volunteers organize juice boxes, milk, cereal, fruit cups, ramen noodles,
canned vegetables, crackers, peanuts, raisins into orders for individual
schools that will last a month. All of the food is shelf stable and kid
friendly with easy to open lids.
Local churches and organizations pick up those orders, divide them into
meals for students and deliver them to 30 schools each Friday.
The BackPack Weekend Food Program began last year when coordinator Carolyn
Niemeyer learned how many students receive free or reduced priced meals
and how being hungry impacts a student’s education. Gaston County
Schools has about 57 percent of students receiving free or reduced priced
meals this year.
Niemeyer reached out to CaroMont Health’s CaroMont Regional Medical
Center for help with purchasing the food and making sure the meals were
healthy. The hospital’s chief dietician created menus based on the
caloric needs of students in elementary, middle and high school.
Food costs have increased this year, especially on items like milk, so
Niemeyer keeps a careful eye on where she can buy the most food at the
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church manages the money, keeping any donations to
the BackPack program in a separate account.
“It’s really a community effort in concern about the children
so they’re not hungry on the weekend,” Niemeyer said. “Children
can’t learn when they’re hungry.”
The organizations involved range from apartment complexes to business groups
One of the churches that help is made up of just a few people, Niemeyer
said. The church started out feeding five children; now the church is
“When the need to increase the number has come up, they have never
said no,” Niemeyer said. “So I think that’s the spirit.
They came and said, ‘We wanted to do this and we wanted to make
it work.’ And they have.”
Jimee Crouch with the Bessemer City Merchants Association partnered with
First Wesleyan Church in Bessemer city to feed 25 students.
The schools choose the students. The merchants’ association packs
the food in plastic bags and delivers it to the schools it serves. Each
school places the food in backpacks and works to make sure students aren’t
embarrassed about receiving the packages by keeping it discreet.
“There’s always a waiting list and there’s always kids
that we wish we could add but we can’t,” Crouch said. “We
can’t fix everything but we can feed them.”
The BackPack program purchases $13,000 to $15,000 worth of food a month.
Niemeyer said the hours spent on the program help chip away at the ultimate goal.
“Well, I would have to say it’s to not have any hungry children
on the weekend,” Niemeyer said.
You can reach reporter Amanda Memrick at 704-869-1839 or follow @AmandaMemrick
Want to help?
For more information on how to donate to the BackPack Weekend Food Program,
email coordinator Carolyn Niemeyer firstname.lastname@example.org or call Gaston
County Schools Business and Education Partnerships director Valerie Yatko
BackPack Program breakdown:
- Cost to feed an elementary school student for a year: $253.16
- Cost to feed a middle school student for a year: $314.50
- Number of schools: 17 elementary, 11 middle, two high schools
- Number of students: 597
- Total partners: 32 churches and organizations