ORANGE PARK – More than 3,500 children had something to eat last weekend. And they will be fed again this weekend.
That was reason enough for about 150 volunteers to celebrate Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Orange Park High cafeteria. The music was loud, atmosphere was festive. They rang cowbells and cheered as civic groups filled boxes with enough food to keep needy children from going hungry.
On Sunday, Hunger Fight was packing more meals at the Orange Cove Seventh Day Adventist church on Fleming Island.
Hunger Fight’s Feed the Backpack program assures children from the county’s Title 1 schools will have something to eat between the close of Friday’s classes and the opening bell on Monday. Each eligible child – there are 3,551 in the county – is sent home with enough macaroni and cheese, beans and rice and brown sugar oatmeal for the weekend. For many, it’s the only food they’ll get.
“What we found was there were many children who simply didn’t have food to eat between Friday and Monday,” said Dean Porter, whose wife, Sherri, founded the organization seven years ago. “Each one of the packets cost $1, but it’s enough for four meals. We can feed a child for about $3 a weekend. That’s a small price to pay. For some of these kids, it’s the difference between having something to eat and going hungry. Nobody should go hungry.”
The Feed Clay Packing Event attracted 14 organizations, including the Boy Scouts, Orange Park Medical Center and several churches. Each organization donated $1,000 to participate, and they reveled in the gratification of being part of something that was so profound.
In less than three hours, the volunteers had packed nearly 45,000 meals.
“I was one of those people who volunteered for everything,” Sherri Porter said. “My husband said I needed to pick one thing and focus on it. I have a friend who’s a teacher and she told me half of her children don’t have anything to eat on the weekends. When I found out how many hungry kids there were in Clay County, I was shocked.”
So she did something about it.
The Porters put together 130,000 meals during their first year. With the help of more than 6,700 volunteers, Hunger Fight packaged nearly 1.6 million meals a year ago.
“We hope to double that next year,” Dean Porter said.
The group also serves the education needs of students by providing 1,500 preschoolers with age-appropriate books sent to their homes each month.
Students in need are identified by schools. Meals are delivered every Wednesday to the guidance office, and they’re put in bookbags Friday afternoon by teachers.