Some Paulding County students on Saturday, Dec. 21, were to begin a stretch of 12 consecutive days without the certainty of school meals being available.
However, the county schools’ weekend backpack program was working to give additional supplies to more than 1,000 Paulding students who participate in the program.
Kim Cayetano, the Paulding County School District’s social worker, and Paulding Family Connection coordinator Michele Craig help oversee the weekly program to help food-insecure Paulding students.
It makes available to students backpacks filled with a weekend’s worth of food on Fridays during the school year.
Cayetano said the program planned to send out “larger portions” on Friday, Dec. 20, to provide enough food for all the days participants will not have school lunches available to them.
She said she is on the “last leg” of having money available from a $10,000 grant the Greater Atlanta McDonald’s Owner/Operators organization gave Cayetano in February to supplement donations to the program.
“We send more food at Christmas,” she said. “I’m buying large quantities.”
The McDonald’s Owner/Operators money allowed Cayetano and others overseeing the program to keep providing food during times when contributing churches typically send those donations elsewhere, such as during the Christmas season, she said.
The program served 600 students at 21 schools in the 2018-2019 academic year but increased that number to 1,000 students and three additional schools as they saw a continued need in the community, she said.
Paulding-area churches, social service organizations, civic clubs, business organizations and others donate the food and other necessities, such as clothing and toiletries, and deliver it to the schools.
The Paulding Chamber of Commerce’s Empowering Women Program recently collected enough food and supplies for students at three schools, Cayetano said.
In addition, cadets in Paulding County High School’s Army JROTC program organize an annual competition among students to collect the most food for the program, Cayetano said.
Counselors and school officials make the items available free to students they have determined need the items.
Organizations and churches also select schools for donations and deliver to them toward the end of the week, Cayetano said.
Volunteers use unmarked backpacks to try not to bring attention to participants — some of whom are high school students who need the food but are hesitant to be seen taking it, Cayetano said.
Most participating schools maintain a food pantry to store supplies for the program, she said.
Hiram High School is the latest to open a pantry, and parents, students and teachers donate the food, Cayetano said.
The food provides weekend nourishment to students when weekday meals at schools are not available. Organizers at each school determine what foods they will accept, officials said.
The school district does not provide any money and employees volunteer to give out the food to students.
It also prefers donations of easily-prepared food, such as macaroni and cheese, or tuna fish, because participants may be responsible for feeding themselves and others while a parent is working, officials said.