According to the USDA, more than 13 million children in the United States live in “food insecure” homes, which means those families don’t regularly have enough food to eat. Thankfully, there are two programs in Jefferson and Berkeley County that are making a difference to help end childhood hunger.
Caring Cupboard was started in 2010 through a partnership of Shepherdstown churches to donate bags of non-perishable, kid-friendly foods to help students stay fed over weekends. Many children who receive free breakfast and lunch at school do not have enough food to get through the weekend. Caring Cupboard fills this need by donating bags each week filled with snacks, main meals, fruit, and milk. They also provide extra food for long weekends and extended breaks from school.
Jennifer Perrotte, Director, Administrative Oversight at Caring Cupboard explains that, along with the donated food bags, they also offer allergy and summer hygiene bags to those children in need.
“We have students who are allergic to gluten, nuts, coconut, citrus, tomatoes, fish, and red dye,” she said. “Each week we pack them different bags to address these allergies. This can be difficult since all our foods must be non-perishable, kid-friendly, and fit in our lunch bags. Gluten-free foods can also be very costly. The summer hygiene bags consist of toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, sunscreen, Band-Aids, deodorant, and washcloths.”
Different methods of donation include: monetary (the preferred method) or food donations of peanut butter, tuna, and soup. Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 2008, Shepherdstown, WV (25443). Additionally, they will be taking food donations again in August at the pantry inside the Lutheran Parish House (110 N. King St., Shepherdstown).
To raise money, Caring Cupboard has held fundraisers and will also apply for the ELCA world hunger grant this summer, which, if awarded, will be for three years of funding from 2019-2021.
Volunteers are needed to help the area churches pack and deliver the bags to schools each week. The schools then distribute the bags to the students. Caring Cupboard supplies the food, but it is the school’s job to identify the need and oversee the distribution.
“Everyone who volunteers with Caring Cupboard always enjoys the ministry and comes back again,” Perrotte said. “College students in particular like volunteering with us and seem to benefit from knowing they are helping other students. We are a close community.”
Ensuring the Future
Cut from a similar cloth, the Berkeley County BackPack Program’s mission is to help end childhood hunger—one bag of food at a time. Located at 300 Foxcroft Avenue in Martinsburg, this program was launched in November 2010, following a model created in Arkansas. Several area mothers recognized the need to aid school children suffering from food insecurity. The program began feeding 36 children at one school. Eight years later, the program is serving 25 schools and 650 students throughout the year.
The program continues in the summer, where they serve approximately 100 families. Because school is closed, the families come to the facility in the summer every two weeks to pick up food bags and family boxes of food for the summer break—when food insecurity is at its highest rates for children.
Lisa Henry, Executive Director at Berkley County BackPack Program, Inc., believes this program is vital to ensure success for the next generation.
“The BackPack Program is an ongoing program that feeds six hundred and fifty students weekly,” she highlighted. “This program is vital to ensure that the next generation has an opportunity to succeed regardless of their economic status. Even with the gradually improving economy, many families are struggling to provide enough food for their children.”
Henry added, “With one-third of West Virginia’s children in poverty, the need for this program is evident. One in six Berkeley County children live with food insecurity, which means that approximately 4,340 children in Berkley County do not always know where they’ll find their next meal.”
Needless to say, all donations, big or small, are much appreciated and needed. Monetary donations can be made online or mailed to Berkeley County Backpack Program, P.O. Box 2153, Hedgesville, WV (25427). Non-perishable food donations can be made to any of the area drop boxes listed on the website, or call for a pickup. The most needed items during the summer are regular-sized cereal, canned soup, canned pasta, fruit cups, and macaroni and cheese.
Volunteers are needed. Anyone and everyone are welcome, and children are encouraged to become a volunteer.
“We have amazing volunteers that give selflessly to the children in our community,” said Henry. “We have some volunteers that come once or twice a year, while we have approximately thirty or forty regular volunteers that come every week. Our non-profit is one hundred percent volunteer.”
Another option to help contribute is to become a Friend of the BackPack Program, which offers six levels of monetary donations and promotional opportunities. By becoming a Friend, participants can give back to the Berkeley County community and ensure the future of its young students.
It goes without saying that fundraising is necessary for the success of the program, as Henry explained how a recent golf tournament had an enormous impact on feeding local food-insecure children, while also revealing the substantial cost of the endeavor.
“The Holes ‘fore’ Hunger Golf Fundraiser was held this past May at The Woods in Hedgesville,” she said. “It was our fifth-annual event. We had ninety golfers come to play, and we raised almost seven thousand dollars, which will purchase one month of food for the Program.”
— Lead photo: Jennifer Perrotte’s daughters, Emily and Megan, helped make signs and pack and deliver bags to families in need during the teacher work stoppage earlier this year.By Robin Murphy