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WINGS Ministry’s Backpack Full of Blessings program strives to do on the weekends what school breakfast and lunch programs do all week—keep kids from going hungry.
Blessings organizer Missy Settlemyre said they are trying to make Brunswick County residents aware of the need here. She would like to see every school served by the program.
For now seven schools participate in the backpack program: Supply Elementary, Virginia Williamson Elementary, Shallotte Middle School, Cedar Grove Elementary, Union Elementary, Waccamaw School and For Kids Only day care.
Another similar program, Matthew’s Ministry, also helps feed local students on the weekends.
Blessings fills 158 backpacks each week. The program feeds students and their families, more than 550 people, for the weekend.
“We try to prepare enough for a family of five,” Settlemyre said.
Settlemyre started the program in Supply and Virginia Williamson last year. Her son, Brandon, now attends Waccamaw, so she expanded to the school in October.
Katherine Ingram, a parent facilitator at Waccamaw School, got involved after Settlemyre arrived.
“We send the backpacks home Friday and the children bring them back Monday or Tuesday,” Ingram said. “I wish we could put their homework in the backpacks—because it would come back…The children don’t get anything else to eat except breakfast and lunch at school.”
“There was a little boy crying last Monday,” Ingram explained, “once we got him settled down he said he left the backpack at home and without it (his family) won’t have any food.”
The backpacks contain canned goods, instant oatmeal packages, water, juice boxes, macaroni and cheese, Cup O’ Noodles and cereal.
The group recently received a donation of 250 bags of Visalus, a nutritional shake mix. One bag includes enough mix for one meal a day for 30 days.
WINGS is included on the Vitshape donation site and an anonymous donor pledged 125 bags, which the company matched.
“With the backpacks, we try to get the kids fed from Friday night until Monday morning,” Settlemyre said.
“A lot of it is actually stuff a child can fix for themselves,” Ingram said.
“Our goal is to provide one meal for families so they can sit down together and eat,” Settlemyre added. “We want to see the children are fed, so they get the most out of school.”
Students sign up for the program by filling out a form. Organizers don’t ask for anything more than name, age and number of people in the family.
Ingram said since the program started at Waccamaw five weeks ago more students are asking for application forms. She had the forms at Waccamaw printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other.
Students aren’t identified on the bags, but a label identifies the grade and class each bag goes to.
Settlemyre met Denise Thigpen, who works for a wholesaler that happened to have backpacks on sale. Settlemyre told her about the program.
“I asked if we bought all of them would she sell them at a reduced price?” Settlemyre said.
Instead she found herself with a donation of 3,000 backpacks—pink ones.
Settlemyre knew girls’ backpacks weren’t going to fly with boys, even if they are in need of the food.
“When I started with Katherine, I was short 26 backpacks. We needed durable packs and the cheapest I could find were $7,” Settlemyre said. “About that time, Thigpen, called. She asked what I was doing. I said praying.”
Thigpen said she would donate 80 boys’ backpacks.
Settlemyre said typically it costs $50 a month to fill a backpack.
“We have fairly consistent donations. The more people hear about us, the more they are willing to donate,” Settlemyre said.
Settlemyre said the Beta Club is hosting a food drive and has agreed to donate anything they collect.
Sandra Shuford, a seventh-grade teacher at Waccamaw, is adding one other item to the backpacks for the holiday. She has made 52 scarves.
“The scarves are homemade. It shows they came from somebody’s heart,” Settlemyre said.
Donations are accepted in orange bins placed at the Ocean Isle Beach police station, Ocean Isle Beach Town Hall, First Bank of Ocean Isle Beach and Food Lion grocery stores in Shallotte and Seaside.
“Over the holiday the kids are out for two weeks. That’s two weeks without food,” Settlemyre said. “So we will have to fill (the backpacks) extra full.”
Settlemyre also put a donation bin on her porch.
“In my development I ask my neighbors if they would like to contribute, put canned items on their porches, and we’ll come collect them,” Settlemyre said.
WINGS also had a fundraiser Dec. 8, Purses for a Purpose, a live auction of donated purses that brought in $1,300.
A $500 raffle is also under way. Five-dollar tickets are available at Seaside Embroidery and Waccamaw School.
Settlemyre said more volunteers are needed to help pack, deliver and pick up backpacks.
For now, a core group of eight helps fill the backpacks.
Another need is space. All of the packing and distribution is done out of Settlemyre’s business, Seaside Embroidery.
“We pack on Thursdays and deliver on Fridays. We try to get them (to the schools) before 1 p.m.,” Settlemyre said.
The backpack volunteers deliver packs to the parent facilitators, who drop them in classrooms for the kids to take home.
If interested in participating, contact Settlemyre at email@example.com.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.