Cereal bars, toaster pastries, pasta in pop-top containers, instant noodles, boxes of macaroni and cheese, fruit cups, and juice boxes filled a donation table at the Sept. 27 meeting of the local chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma.
DKG’s collection was the result of a food drive benefiting Backpack Buddies, a nonprofit organization created to provide food over weekends and holidays to economically disadvantaged children in the Coweta County School System.
Backpack Buddies was created after the 2008 economic downturn.
“When the economy tanked, my children could qualify for free and reduced lunch,” April Anderson told the group of women educators at their Sept. 27 meeting.
Prior to the crash, Anderson’s husband was a home builder, and the family lived in an upscale home and drove expensive vehicles. The downturn radically altered their lifestyle, however.
“My kids’ insurance was canceled,” Anderson said. “It opened my heart and made me compassionate.”
Anderson called the school system and was connected with Dr. David Gregory, whose job responsibilities included working with homeless families. A plan was developed, and the ministry grew out of Anderson’s church, eventually becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Initially, Backpack Buddies served children in two schools: Atkinson Elementary and Jefferson Parkway Elementary. The organization has grown, and it now serves every school in Coweta County.
“We packed 599 bags last night,” Anderson said.
Plans include further expansion to include children served by programs in the district as well.
“There are an estimated 200 homeless children in our county,” Anderson said. “Many children are dependent on the free and reduced lunch program provided by their schools during the week. They have very little to eat over the weekends and holidays.
“We work with school counselors to identify children at risk for hunger, and then we supply them with nutritious, self-serve food that will sustain them when school meals are not available,” she added. “I am so grateful for our counselors.”
Anderson said research shows hungry children have poorer mental and physical health, more behavioral disorders and are less prepared to learn when they are in school.
“Hunger is an increasing epidemic in our county,” Anderson said. “The Backpack Buddies program is essential to help relieve hunger, which in turn will improve grades, health, school attendance and self-esteem in these children.”
She called Coweta County “extraordinary.”
“I never have been in a community where everyone pulls together like this one,” Anderson said. “Our organization is super blessed because the favor of God is behind it. I have found that you have to step out and do. God calls the least prepared so they will rely on Him.”
Backpack Buddies offers opportunities for individuals and groups to volunteer. In addition to holding food drives, volunteers can sponsor a Backpack Buddies student, sponsor a school, deliver backpacks and/or pack backpacks.
Church groups have volunteered to pack backpacks on Wednesday mornings, and packing also is also done on Wednesday nights. More information about ways to become involved is available on the organization’s website, www.backpackbuddiesga.org .
Keivia Clay, counselor at Arbor Springs Elementary, also spoke to the group of DKG educators. Clay explained the role of counselors at the elementary level, which is to foster the educational, career and social/emotional development of students. The goal is to support students in reaching their full academic potential and enjoy a positive school experience, she said.
“We work with students, parents and fellow staff members to help students receive the support needed to be successful,” Clay said. “As counselors, we meet with students individually, in small groups, and in a whole class format. We teach students various coping strategies, skills, and methods to handle various challenges.”
In addition, counselors act as liaisons, providing information and resources about school-based support systems and outside agencies, she said.
As a relatively new elementary counselor, Clay said she is “continuing tradition that was already established.”
Among many responsibilities, Clay works with Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), character education, mentoring, Career Day, Backpack Buddies, Thanksgiving meal planning, the parent resource center, referrals and the Angel Tree program at Arbor Springs.
“The Angel Tree program has helped more than 50 families since 2014,” Clay said.
DKG is a professional organization which promotes the professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education. Mu Chapter is a diverse group of key women educators from Coweta and surrounding areas, composed of members at all stages of their careers and involved in a variety of educational levels.
The chapter meets in Newnan and serves Coweta County and the surrounding area. Through participation in projects at the state and international level, Mu members help improve education worldwide, particularly focusing on improving the educational outcomes of girls and women.
The chapter holds five meetings each school year, and each meeting has a program that supports the mission and purposes of the society. A project connected to the program focus allows members to support educational endeavors.