Some Bartow and Cartersville students on Saturday, Dec. 21, were to begin a stretch of 16 consecutive days without the certainty of meals being available at school.

The Backpack Buddy Program which jointly serves students in the city and county school systems were set to fill backpacks with enough food for the weekend of Dec. 21 and 22.

That left 14 more days for more than 1,000 students participating in the program — many facing food insecurity — and their families to find the food they need to make their holidays a little brighter this year.

One agency which is working to fill in for the schools during the holiday break is Red Door Food Pantry in downtown Cartersville.

Karen Tindall, volunteer coordinator for the agency, said it will make available turkeys or hams for those students and their families who qualify for the service.

“They can come fill out the paperwork. We don’t discriminate,” she said.

It also plans to alter its usual Tuesday and Wednesday service days on the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weeks, she said.

The pantry will open Monday, Dec. 23 and 30, from 9 to 11 a.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. both days but not be open on the holidays’ eves and days, she said.

The Episcopal Church of the Ascension at 205 W. Cherokee Ave. in downtown Cartersville hosts the pantry, which is part of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Patrons must fill out a form and provide proof of need — such as participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or WIC programs — to qualify for the pantry’s services, Tindall said.

It makes available up to 12 pounds of food weekly to each family it serves, Tindall said.

About 180 families utilize the service each week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the church and through its mobile food ministry in such locations as Kingston and Emerson, she said.

The Backpack Buddy Program serves about 360 students in the city system each week during the school year, said Paula Womack, social worker for Cartersville City Schools.

Womack, who helps oversee its operation, said the program began as a way to help provide food on the weekends to students whose families live in such temporary housing as area motels.

School principals, guidance counselors, social workers and various after-school programs identify the “at-risk” children who would benefit from it, its website stated.

They then make the program available to such students as the 700 homeless in the two systems, and 60% of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, program officials said.

It has grown from providing 60 bags a week in 2010, to more than 1,000 bags for city and county school students in need this school year, Womack said.

Local corporations, civic groups, churches and individuals volunteer to help collect food and pack bags with “kid-friendly non-perishable food,” its website stated.

Womack said workers fill the bags with “easy-to-prepare foods for students” such as Pop Tarts, fruit cups, SpaghettiO’s and granola bars.

For more information about Red Door Food Pantry, call 770-382-2626 or visit https://www.ascensioncartersville.org/red-door-food-pantry.

For information about Backpack Buddies, visit https://www.bartowbackpackbuddies.org/.

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