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Outreach ministry providing meals to students expands

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Before morning worship service even began at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Monty Fulton and a room full of volunteers were busy doing the Lord's work.

Fulton, the chairman of the church's outreach committee, and a faithful throng of about 40 volunteers, were busy stuffing food into Ziploc bags and then into totes as part of the church's Blessings in a Backpack ministry.

Started in Louisville, Ky., and now spread across the states, Blessings in a Backpack (http://blessingsinabackpack.org) is an outreach ministry that sends healthy snacks and meals home with students in need at schools around the country.

Nationally, the non-profit Blessings in a Backpack is feeding more than 63,000 children in 583 schools in 45 U.S. states.

Brought to Huntington last year as a ministry of First Presbyterian Church and Fifth Avenue Baptist, the Blessings ministry in the city now includes Central Christian Church and First United Methodist Church.

On Thursday, volunteers from First Presbyterian will take the 1,000 meals to Central City Elementary School, where school officials will dole out 250 meals a week to kids as they head home from school to ensure they have food to eat over the weekend.

Fulton said they started the program last year with the help of Janna Stoner, the children's minister at Fifth Avenue Baptist. They started out packing about 200 take-home meals a week for the school, but that has increased to 250 this year.

That need, too, is felt nationally as it is estimated that there are at least 20 million children in this country who are at risk of hunger. According to Blessings in a Backpack, poor nutrition can result in a weaker immune system, increased hospitalization, lower IQ, shorter attention spans, and lower academic achievement.

Fulton said it has been amazing to see the growth of the program and the love of so many volunteers and churches coming on board to help see that basic needs are met here in Huntington.

"It has been phenomenal to watch it grow," Fulton said. "Last year when we started, we did an appeal to the congregations and we were overwhelmed with the response."

Although wild to behold, Fulton said the assembly line production of placing backpack food (easy-to-prepare, ready-to-eat foods, like granola bars, juice boxes, mac and cheese, and oatmeal) into one gallon Ziploc bags and then into totes for transfer is done in just an hour before service.

"For about $90 a year, we can feed one student for the weekends for the whole year," Fulton said. "We are now rotating the bagging. We have the food set up on a table and then pick up the one gallon Ziploc bags and drop them into a big tote at the end of the table so that we will have all four weeks done. We can do that in an hour before service and it looks like chaos, but it goes together fast."

Fulton said folks who are interested in helping out with the Blessings In a Backpack ministry can contact any of the participating churches. For other ways to help, check out the multi-church outreach project called Helpington on Facebook.

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