Tuesday, October 6, 2009

United Methodist Sponsors Food Bank Backpack Program at Exeter-Milligan School

From the left, LaVonne Guthrie, Cathy Rhodes and Exeter-Milligan Superintendent Paul Sheffield hold the backpacks that Sheffield will distribute on Fridays containing enough food to feed a family of four for the weekend.

Cathy Rhodes, left, and LaVonne Guthrie, right, spend an hour or so each month packing dry goods in sacks to be placed in backpacks each week to help feed needy families in the area.

LaVonne Guthrie shows the some of the food that is packed in each backpack for elementary students.

The United Methodist Church in Exeter had been looking for a mission, a way to reach out to the community and share. Who knew it would involve backpacks?

A comment made by a family member sparked church member LaVonne Guthrie's interest. Her daughter-in-law, Kris Guthrie, participates with the weekend backpack program in Lincoln and the Food Bank "was wanting to bring the program to the rural areas," according to LaVonne.

United Methodist Church member Cathy Rhodes and LaVonne Guthrie have spearheaded the effort along with the assistance of Superintendent Paul Sheffield.

They connected with the Lincoln Food Bank and arranged for the United Methodist Women to sponsor the backpack program at the Exeter-Milligan Elementary School for a year.

The idea behind the program was to provide nutritious menu items that are easy for kids to prepare and eat. The backpacks, stuffed with canned and boxed goods, sometimes include a voucher for bread or eggs which can be used at a local grocery store. They almost always include a large box of cereal which Rhodes hoped "kids can have breakfast on some of the leftover cereal during the week as well."

"The Lincoln Food Bank brought a big truck with a pallet of food that we put in a storage area at school and we assemble the backpacks there," according to Guthrie.

The two women meet together once a month and pack the food in plastic grocery sacks which contain "enough food for four people for a weekend. The menus are very nice and there are six different menus that will rotate," Guthrie explained.

Superintendent Sheffield distributes the backpacks every Friday and when they come back on Monday he refills them with the bags that Rhodes and Guthrie have prepared for the next week, sets them in a sealed plastic tub and is all ready for the next Friday.

With the discounts the Food Bank receives on bulk purchases, each weekend of meals costs between $4.50 and $6.00 per week. The United Methodist Church hosted an ice cream social with the proceeds to go toward the program. "We're (the United Methodist Church) okay for this year but after we get it going we're hoping that some of the other organizations in the area will be willing to help," hoped Guthrie.

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