Just the basics: Backpack Buddies help fill need

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2022

“Everything that Backpack Buddies gives away is all new,” Jodi Hunt, program coordinator for Backpack Buddies, said to a group from United Way of the River Cities on Thursday. “We feel like it’s really important for kids to get new items.”

The group was comprised of donors that represented several corporate partners and UWRC staff and board members, and they were on a tour of grant-funded programs in Lawrence County, including Chesapeake’s Community Mission Outreach and Backpack Buddies, in Ironton.

Hunt showed the group around the workspace of Backpack Buddies so they could see how their dollars directly affect the community.

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“Here in our community, a lot of kids are struggling with just the basics,” she said. “Just to get to school, get the food that they need and their education. We just want to be a small part to help them and let them know, ‘Hey, you know, there’s somebody here who can help me and they care about us and I can break this cycle I’m in.’”

There are just over 350 kids the organization provides for and they serve several school systems, including Symmes Valley, Rock Hill, Dawson-Bryant, Open Door, Lawrence County Early Childhood Academy and South Point’s preschool.

In the workspace, there were several shelves lined with macaroni, oatmeal, Ramen noodles, and more. The organization will pack bags with a variety of food and send it home every Friday with kids who could use it over the weekend.

“There are kids who take one home every day. When they get home they just don’t have food, so every day they get a bag,” Hunt said.

There is also a clothing giveaway they spearhead every year, which is their largest event. Last year, they served 559 kids in a single day.

“We passed out thousands of items that day, it’s like Christmas for me,” Hunt said. “It’s my favorite day of the year. A lot of these kids, they never get the ability to be able to go to a store and pick out items that are new to them. And it’s set up like that, we set it up to look like a store.”

She said they set up clothing that’s organized by size, shoes, bookbags and more.

“It’s something that makes them feel special, like they’re going fit in like any other kid when they go back to school, which is so important for so many of our kids because that is a reality. Mentally, that’s what they think about, ‘I’m going back to school and I’m not going to fit in,’” she said, choking back tears. “So they’re going into their first day of school, already defeated because they’re different or they don’t have something new.”

Of the grant dollars received from United Way, Hunt said, “It helps us provide for kids and it helps us to do what we do. We are 100% grant and donation funded. No one that works with Backpack Buddies receives a salary, including me, we don’t get paid for what we do, everybody is a volunteer.”

Bill Rosenberger, director of resource development for United Way, said “We provide you all with about $15,000, this is the first time United Way donors are really seeing their dollars in action.”

To donate or volunteer, call Hunt at 740-534-3550 or visit unitedwayrivercities.org.