Fulfilling a need

When Lorrie Dean was raising her children as a single parent, the backpack program could have helped her out immensely.
Now that Dean’s children are adults, she wants to help families who are struggling to put food on the table, just as she did.
Dean is one of many Catawba County BB&T employees who started volunteering Wednesday for the county’s backpack program, which provides free meals for underprivileged children during weekends.
“That’s the reason I’m here,” Dean said. “I know what it’s like. If they had the backpack program when my kids were young, it would have been a huge help.”
BB&T employees chose the backpack program as their service project for the 2010-11 school year. Every Wednesday until June, employees will volunteer their time to load food items into backpacks for students in area elementary schools.
“(The backpack program) was something that really touched everyone,” said employee Maritta Freeman. “We wanted to really show that we’re a community organization and that we care.”
About 420 students receive food every weekend from the backpack program. They receive an individually numbered backpack containing enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches, three dinners and two snacks.
“It’s supposed to cover meals during weekends and then some extra,” said Amanda Freeland, the backpack program coordinator.
Each food item is packaged into plastic bags to prevent leaks, and then the bags are placed in backpacks. Some schools choose to use only the plastic bags, because it makes the food less conspicuous to other students, Freeland said.
Children return the backpacks on Monday, and they are restocked with food for the following weekend.
Funding the program for one school year costs about $32,000. To help the program purchase food and other supplies, BB&T donated $10,000 and committed more than 400 volunteer hours to help stock the backpacks with food.
The remaining funds come from private donors, Freeland said.
The backpacks will be distributed among Longview, Southwest, Oxford and Webb A. Murray elementary schools. Many elementary schools in the county have a church or an organization that “adopted” the backpack program for the school, but the elementary schools served by the BB&T employees have yet to be adopted by an organization.
“Our mission is to be a good partner in this community,” said Jody Street, a BB&T employee.
Food for the program is purchased or donated, and includes nonperishable canned goods, like tomato soup or baked beans, as well as granola bars, boxed drinks, macaroni and cheese, instant oatmeal and fresh fruit.
The BB&T employees expected to package about 90 backpacks Wednesday.
BB&T branches company wide are encouraged to take part in the company’s 2010 Lighthouse Program, which aims to serve members of communities where BB&T branches are located.
“Every year, we have a significant service project that we do,” said Rachel Holmes. “This year, it was the backpack program, and we’re really excited to help out.”