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Hammond Central to launch weekend food backpack program

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HAMMOND — With a growing amount of students participating in free or reduced price lunch at Hammond, the weekend means little food or maybe no food at home.

But thanks to a group of community volunteers led by Hammond resident Shirley R. Bogart, children won’t have to go hungry on the weekends.

Volunteers and local stores have banded together to start the Hammond Kids Backpack Program, which allows students to take home a backpack full of groceries each Friday to eat on the weekend.

“There is definitely a need in Hammond,” Mrs. Bogart said Monday. “Families can use the help and it is completely confidential.”

In 2012, 185 children were eligible for free or reduced lunch out of 345 kids enrolled in the district. That number has nearly doubled since 2003.

“Over 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and could really use the help,” Interim Superintendent Randy C. Richards said. “Before any learning can begin, a student’s basic needs have to be met.”

The Hammond Central School Board of Education approved the plan unanimously Dec. 10. The program will begin Jan. 6. The first backpack handed out to children on Jan. 10.

The school principal, nurse and cafeteria workers will all help identify families who need assistance.

“It will be a whole team effort,” Mr. Richards said.

Mrs. Bogart said she got the idea after seeing a news report featuring Cindy Overton, a food service manager, who started a similar program at South Jefferson Central School District in Adams.

“Our pastor at the First Congregational Church in Morristown encouraged us to go out and find ways to help the community,” Mrs. Bogart said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to do that, so I contacted Ms. Overton, and Fred Morris helped put together a plan and a donation list.”

Mrs. Bogart said she will distribute the donation lists to local grocery stores – Price Chopper, Save-A-Lot, and Wal-Mart – for donations. Several boxes and cans of food have already been donated by friends, family and church members, she said.

Mrs. Bogart is taking the program a step further by filling backpacks donated by Wal-Mart once a month with personal care items, such as toothpaste and toiletries.

“Once we develop a rapport with the families, we will create a special account to buy hats, coats or mittens or a new pair of shoes,” Mrs. Bogart said.

Ms. Bogart is currently seeking donations of macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, instant potatoes, spaghetti and sauce, tuna fish, canned chicken, instant oatmeal, and canned fruits and vegetables.

“We are trying to make the program as healthy as possible, but we also want to make sure the kids get a treat now and then,” Mrs. Bogart said.

For more information or to donate food or funds, contact Mrs. Bogart at 324-6598.

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