Program provides needed food for students

Much appreciation is expressed to the employees at 5-Star Hydraulics for their contribution to the BPS Backpack Program. Pictured are (from left) program coordinator Paula Pitts, BPS teacher/program supporter and volunteer Tracy Plunkett, Hydraulics employee Diane Bailey, school Speech Language pathologist and due process coordinator Melissa Moriarty and (not pictured) 5-Star Hydraulics owner Phil Gebhardt.

Blytheville Schools PR Director

The “Backpack” Program at Blytheville Primary School is in full swing. The supplemental program, according to coordinator Paula Pitts, enables the school to provide food for weekends and holidays for qualified BPS students. Basically, a student qualifies for the Backpack Program if his or her teacher or another school employee believes that student may not be getting enough to eat every day. A family member may also contact the school and asks that their child become part of the program.
BPS currently has approximately 50 students in kindergarten-second grade who are members of the program. Each Friday afternoon the students receive a numbered backpack that includes a breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks and drinks for every day that student is out of school. “When you add that up you are talking about 350 meals, 200 snacks and 200 drinks per weekend,” Pitts stated. “That is not to mention the week off at Thanksgiving, two weeks off at Christmas and a week off for spring break.”  Students receive their food at the end of the day before a break and then return the backpacks on the following Monday, or when the student returns to school.
Pitts went on to say that the Backpack Program is successful because of contributions from the “loving, caring” members of the Blytheville community. Money and/or food from businesses such as Tenaris, local banks, the Rotary Club, 5-Star Hydraulics and Nucor-Yamato Steel, and a host of individuals help keep the program going. “Our community members have the biggest hearts of any people I know,” Pitts said. “Whenever our school needs food for the program, the outpouring of support is unbelievable.”
Pitts, in her 20th year with the Blytheville School District, added that the schools used to receive food from the Rice Depot in Little Rock when trucks from the depot came to town once per month. “Before that food program was eliminated the schools would have to accept whatever was offered,” she said. “A lot of times it was enough to sustain our program, but sometimes it wasn’t.”
“The people who work at our school are so impressive. I’ve seen firsthand our staff members go into their own “pockets” for money and food for some of our children. I’ve also gone into areas of town a few times to provide food for students, including leaving food in an abandoned car those students would walk to for food just so they could have something to eat.”
The Primary School’s first-quarter community project is the food drive for its Backpack Program. Pitts said that part of its Strategic Plan is aimed at increasing student achievement and growth by providing the opportunity for the students to participate in projects that give back to the Blytheville community. The food drive will last through Oct. 11, but contributions are always welcome.
Suggested items for the food drive include canned soup, apple sauce, canned ravioli, beanie weenies, vienna sausages, cans or pouches of tuna and chicken, individual boxes of cereal, packets of oatmeal, “Easy Mac”, microwave popcorn, peanut butter crackers, granola/breakfast bars, canned fruit, “Jello”, pudding, graham crackers, saltine crackers, jelly, peanut butter, pop tarts, fruit snacks and juice pouches. All the food in the program is, said Pitts, “child-friendly” so that the students can make their own food while at home. For more information contact Pitts at 763-6916.
Among Melissa Moriarty’s responsibilities as BPS Speech Language pathologist and Due Process coordinator is updating BPS’ Facebook page, and Pitts said that whenever the Backpack Program food supply is low all Moriarty has to do is ask for more supplies from the community, and almost immediately the community responds.
BPS is also in the midst of its own food drive “challenge”. Its goal for the drive is 1,500 items of food, and if it surpassed the students will have their own family dance for later in the year. Students in each classroom wing are also collecting food, and the wing which collects the most food can tape Moriarty to one of its walls.