In 2011, Pat Knox from the Jubilee Center at St. David’s Episcopal Church recognized a need here in Englewood. Children in all but one of the area elementary schools were participating in the School Backpack program. This program provides supplemental food to children for over the weekend when they are not in school. The school that had fallen between the cracks was Englewood Elementary School which was considered too far south to be included by Sarasota County and did not fall under Charlotte County’s jurisdiction. Pat contacted Debra Mosley, a successful Mayor for the Day candidate, who made it her platform and successfully assisted in getting the program underway through the Jubilee Center. The need for this program continues today as there are currently 134 students receiving the backpacks at Englewood Elementary School every two weeks.
Students are selected through applications filled out by parents/guardians through the school system. The original school backpack ministry program gave the kids canned foods, which made the packs very heavy and some children didn’t have access to utensils, a way to heat the food and an adult to assist. Listening to feedback from parents and kids over the years, the food list has been amended to kid-friendly snack foods, such as cereal, cartons of chocolate milk, oatmeal bars, fruit strips, turkey sticks and Go-Gurt. Food is provided by the All Faiths Food Bank as part of the Feeding America organization and is delivered every two weeks.
Last year the Backpack Ministry started by the Jubilee Center at St. David’s Episcopal Church entered into a partnership with the Community Presbyterian Church, for the 2019-2020 school year. The Jubilee Center, under the direction of Ruth Hill, is responsible for receiving the food and St. David’s volunteers sort, count and set-up the food, bags and totes for assembly of the backpacks. Community Presbyterian Church volunteers, under the direction of representative Colleen McCracken and with the assistance of church youth members, fill the backpacks and prepare them for delivery. Colleen says, “The Back Pack Program has been a wonderful opportunity for Community Presbyterian Church to serve the youth in our community. We are grateful that it has brought together members of our congregation of every generation from age four to those who are four at heart to fill food bags in the service of children in need. We appreciate the partnership with St. David’s Episcopal Church, All Faiths Food Bank and Englewood Elementary that makes this vital program possible.” Bill Kraft, of Community Presbyterian Church, takes charge of delivering the items every two weeks to Englewood Elementary School where 5th grade student volunteers hand out the backpacks.
Summer need is even greater when kids are not in school to receive a free lunch on weekdays, and due to the seasonal aspect of Englewood economy, parent/guardian income may drop. Feeding America does not fund the program during the summer so the Jubilee Center, supported entirely by donations when school is not in session, funds the program. Backpacks are handed out when parents/guardians pick up a weekly box of food. If you are here during the summer, please consider making a donation, food or monetary, to help keep the students fed. Examples of items found in the summer bags are Chef Boyardee, fruit cups, Swiss Rolls, Health bars, crackers, string cheese, Vienna sausages, Jello, pudding, Pop-Tarts and microwave popcorn. Volunteers are always welcome. If you would like to learn more, call Ruth Hill at the Jubilee Center, 681•3550.