It already had been a pretty busy day for students and adults gathered in Mount Airy Middle School’s auditorium, who still faced a late-afternoon task: filling more than 500 backpacks and grocery bags with food.
Through their after-school volunteer efforts Wednesday — representing a joint project of the Surry Sunrise Rotary Club, Mount Airy Middle School’s Interact Club, Surry Community College’s Rotaract Club and the Food Lion grocery chain — at-risk classmates will be helped.
“We have more than 40 kids who don’t have anything to eat over the weekend,” explained Nicole Scearce, a faculty adviser for the middle school Interact Club, a community service organization with about 50 student members.
Youths in need are benefited as part of a backpack program operating at various campuses which sends students home with supplies of food to supplement school breakfast and lunch programs.
However, stockpiles for the program have been scant of late. “Our Bear Den is completely bare,” Scearce said of the place at Mount Airy Middle School where that food is stored before distribution.
So the supplies processed Wednesday afternoon couldn’t have arrived at a better time for Mount Airy Middle School’s Hungry Bear Program, its version of the backpack movement launched about 14 years ago.
Small effort grew
Catrina Alexander of the Surry Sunrise Rotary Club said the food drive that culminated Wednesday had humble beginnings — a club grant project that involved generating $610 to buy backpack food.
This was matched by the Rotary Foundation for the district that includes the organization’s local clubs — a charitable arm of Rotary International.
With that tidy sum of $1,220 in hand, Alexander contacted Rondale Ratcliff, Food Lion regional operations specialist, to check on prices for supplies needed. Ratcliff informed her that the grocery chain also could aid the project through its Food Lion Feeds program, which supplements hunger-relief campaigns with local store donations.
At that time, Alexander was unaware that program existed.
Nearly 2,500 pounds of backpack items subsequently were OK’d by officials at Food Lion’s headquarters in Salisbury, which resulted in a total of $3,000 worth of food for the school’s Hungry Bear Program from all involved.
Alexander was amazed at how an effort that started small ended up being a major community undertaking, saying it mirrored the classic children’s story “Stone Soup.” That tale concerns a stranger who comes to a town and begins cooking a rock in a kettle, convincing the townspeople to gradually add items for a delicious finished product.
“You start with a rock, a little boiling water and you end up with a village,” Alexander said of the food campaign.
“This began with a $610 commitment and goes to show that through collaboration and a willingness to serve, big things can happen in small places.”
Members of the Surry Community College Rotaract Club, also a service organization, aided with Wednesday’s huge packing event as well.
After receiving instructions, participants representing all age groups formed an assembly line to transfer the stacks of food to individual backpacks and grocery bags, which included canned items such as soups, macaroni and cheese, breakfast bars and many others.
“Bags are sent home (with needy students) every Friday afternoon,” said Avery Cox, a middle school student who is president of its Interact Club. She said that without donations such as those made Wednesday afternoon, it would be difficult to maintain the Hungry Bear Program.
Food given to students is designed to provide the nutritional meals they need to come to school ready to learn. Each Friday, they take home a bag filled with 11 items, most of which are individually wrapped so students can prepare them independently.
It is estimated that the supplies processed Wednesday will feed the Hungry Bear Program for a 13-week period.
Kathy Whicker, a Food Lion community liaison from Winston-Salem who attended the packing event, said the company’s charitable program recognizes the fact many local relief efforts are suffering at this time of year, as evidenced by the middle school need.
The public tends to be tapped out financially from making Christmastime donations and meeting other holiday expenses, so Food Lion seeks to step in at an optimum time, Whicker explained.
Since 2014, the chain has provided the equivalent of 272,578,457 meals. Its goal is to contribute 500 million meals by 2020.
“Food Lion believes no one should have to choose between gas and groceries or dinner and rent,” Ratcliff told the auditorium full of people during a short program before Wednesday’s packing operation began.
“We believe no child should come to school hungry.”
“They’ve been a great partner,” Surry Sunrise Rotary Club President Jeff Boyles said of Food Lion during the program.
Boyles added that Wednesday was a special day in more ways than one, including the fact that it marked the 15th anniversary of the Surry Sunrise club’s founding.
He also said the food campaign is well-timed, coming in the midst of a regional effort, Rotarians Unite to Stop Hunger (RUSH), a three-year initiative for Rotary District 7690, which includes Surry County. A spark for that campaign was a survey revealing that North Carolina’s Triad area ranks number one in the nation in “food insecurity” among the poor.
“This project aligned perfectly with our district’s RUSH initiative, Boyles acknowledged, “and creating a partnership with Food Lion is icing on the cake.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.