There is nothing like bringing a smile to the face of a hungry child.
So says Tracey Gulledge, a Eufaula Primary School guidance counselor, who said 35 children at her school are in need of extra sustenance to make it through their weekends.
When children’s families are determined to be in financial need, the kids can receive free breakfasts and lunches at the school. The problem comes when the children leave school for the weekend. Teachers at Eufaula Primary and several other Southeast Alabama schools have observed that some children obviously are not eating on the weekends.
Luckily for those children, members of five churches and the Southeast Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) have stepped in to help fill empty tummies. These groups are sponsoring Backpack Buddies, a program that provides easy-to-eat meals for kids on the weekend.
“There’s a great need in our community,” Gulledge said. “The children are selected based on need by their teachers. We send permission forms home with the child. This year, we have 35 children who receive a food bag every Friday.
“APSO does 10 bags a week, and they are very nice bags,” she said, with a smile. “We give them out in a buggy. Some bags are bigger, and the children know the Alabama Power bags when they see them – they are nicely put together.”
Offerings include ravioli, Vienna sausages, macaroni and cheese, grits, squeeze drinks, toaster pastries and containers of peanut butter and crackers. Perishable items such as fruit aren’t included.
“I wish you could see the children’s little faces,” Gulledge said. “They get excited.”
Southeast Division APSO members began supporting Backpack Buddies under the guidance of Katrina Haynes, a substations engineer in Alabama Power’s Eufaula Office, and Leslie Cox, a training instructor in Accounting at the Southeast Division Office.
The project got its start in 2015, Cox said, when a friend at Eufaula Primary School contacted Southeast APSO for assistance. Haynes began looking how to help, and checked with APSO’s Jodi Webb, president of the Gaston Chapter, for tips on how they conducted their successful Backpack Buddies project. Gaston APSO supplies food for more than 100 underprivileged children in the Walker County School system. The Eastern, Gorgas, Miller and Magic City APSO chapters take part in the project, as well.
Southeast APSO members initially began providing weekend meals for 10 youngsters at Eufaula Primary. Cox, whose 6-year old attends the school, said the project has enabled APSO members to develop a good relationship with school administrators.
“Since we started, we’re now including Ashford Elementary, Beulah Elementary, Windham Elementary and the Enterprise school system,” Cox said. “We buy the food, package it and deliver it to the schools every Thursday throughout the school year.”
School guidance counselors discreetly place the weekend food bags into the children’s backpacks during P.E., so classmates aren’t aware of others’ home situations.
“This project has made a huge impact in our division on the students as well as our APSO volunteers,” Cox said. “The schools are so appreciative, and they say the kids look forward to getting their backpack each week. It’s so rewarding to know we are helping these children. It makes your heart smile.”