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The Hunger and Health Coalition Expands Their Backpack Program to Combat Childhood Hunger

The Hunger and Health Coalition has recently expanded their Backpack Program to include five additional elementary schools in order to help fight childhood hunger in Watauga County. Here in Watauga County, an astounding one in five children do not know where their next meal will come from.

Pictured from upper left: Hannah Boone (ASU Grad Student), Kelsey Tillotson (ASU Grad Student), Sena Roberts (ASU Grad Student), Denise Presnell (Hardin Park School Social Worker), Anita Wilson (Director of Operations, Hunger and Health Coalition), Daisy Rodriguez-Besse (Director of Childhood Hunger Programs, Second Harvest Food Bank), Lindsey Gough (Cove Creek School Social Worker), Heather Holbrook (Green Valley School Social Worker), Elizabeth Young (Executive Director, Hunger and Health Coalition) First row: Sydney Van Scyoc (ASU Grad Student), Amy Michael (Valle Crucis School Social Worker), Annie Routh (Hardin Park Intern)

Local schools and area non-profits have come together to help ensure that Watauga County students have access to the essential nutrition they need to thrive and learn. Designed as a supplemental nutrition program to protect children against the consequences of hunger, the BackPack Program provides participating children with nutritious meals to take home each weekend during the school year. The menu rotates and always includes two servings of grains, three servings of fruit, two servings of protein, two servings of milk and one serving of vegetables. The program in Watauga County is a collaborative effort of the Hunger and Health Coalition, Watauga County Schools and Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC.

“The Backpack Program is a literal lifesaver for our students who may be home alone over the weekend, or need supplemental items to carry them through a weekend with little food in the house” said Hardin Park Social Worker Denise Presnell. “It helps them return to school on Monday with their nutritional needs met and ready to learn.”

“We know that when students go to bed hungry and then come to school hungry, they are not able to focus in the classroom and that this can have long term implications in their lives,” said Elizabeth Young, Executive Director for the Hunger and Health Coalition. “In Watauga County, 24% of our residents live in poverty and 48% of residents are considered as having low income by federal standards. That’s a startling indicator of just how tough things still are for many Watauga County families. In collaboration with local schools, through the BackPack Program, we strive to ensure that all children have the meals and essential nutrition they need to achieve their full academic potential.”

“We have continued to see the need increase for these programs and we ask for your support in ensuring that we can continue to keep up with the demand,” states Young. “There are many ways to get involved, from volunteering your time, to helping to deliver Backpacks, to making a financial contribution. Watauga County is an incredible community where neighbors can make a real difference for their neighbors in need”.

For information or to volunteer, visit hungerandhealthcoalition.com or call 828.262.1628.

Organizational Summary

Founded in 1982, the Hunger and Health Coalition has been providing basic need assistance to those experiencing financial hardship and food shortages. Watauga County is the third poorest county in North Carolina, and the Hunger and Health Coalition has provided 11,385 food boxes and distributed more than 125,250 pounds of nutritious foods to Watauga County residents in 2017. Fresh produce, bakery items and deli food is donated daily by area grocers; local restaurants donate prepared food that otherwise would be thrown away. Also in 2017, the Free Pharmacy filled 18,150 prescriptions to residents of Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.