By ANYA WAKEFIELD

The Putnam Herald

TEAYS VALLEY - Once again, the community came together to pack boxes for the Backpack Buddy program at the Teays Valley Church of Nazarene on June 1.

With a bigger-than-ever number of volunteers, it took less than two hours to prepare over 2,500 boxes to be shipped. The Backpack Buddy program, which was initiated seven years ago, aims to help those students who depend on school meals to get through the summer by shipping them boxes filled with sustainable food items directly to their home.

"We want to make sure kids have something to eat every day. Mailing it makes sure they get food," said Pastor Soney Williams, one of the program's board members.

Over the past few years the event has grown a lot, drawing more and more volunteer families and individuals who want to contribute.

"We cannot thank everyone enough," Williams said, addressing the crowd. He said the need for the program has become greater, and the positive response from the benefiting families is overwhelming.

Depending on the amount of children, each family who applied for the program will receive anywhere from 1 to 5 boxes every other week during the summer.

Putnam County Schools Superintendent John Hudson was one of the volunteers. "I'm really impressed with the organization," commented Hudson. "I see some of the students who just had their graduation last night, and this morning they are here, helping."

"It was born from the heart," Williams said in an interview while speaking of how the program was started. "Doug Erwin, who is our visionary and program director for Putnam County, brought the idea to the table. Then we all came together and said 'let's make this happen.'"

In its first year, the program helped feed 25 children.

"Then next year we went to 200," Williams said. "We are at 859 kids this year, so we are seeing more need in our county. We are also working with Boone, Raleigh, and Kanawha."

Besides the food items, the boxes contain inserts about the Putnam Career & Technical Center and Vocational School. "It's geared toward the parents. If we can get one parent out of 400 families to go to a vocational school and learn a trade, we've been successful and broken that stigma,"said the Backpack Buddy leader Doug Erwin.

The Backpack Buddy volunteers will be heading to Boone County next to pack 1,500 boxes.

To find out more about the program and how to volunteer, visit www.backpackbuddy.org.

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