Every Friday, Rob Brooks, a UMC pastor and director of Ashe Outreach, and a group of volunteers fill bags with food for 320 students in Ashe County Schools.
“Our program feeds 320 kids per week,” Brooks said. “Every weekend, each kid will take home an average of 10 pounds of food.”
Ashe Outreach’s School Kids Backpack Program provides a select group of local children and their families with a combination of nutritious, “family friendly” and “kid friendly” foods, foods that kids can eat without the assistance of an adult.
“A smart mom or dad will combine the rice with peas, carrots and mixed vegetables for a medley or casserole,” Brooks said. “With macaroni, shelf stable milk, cereal, instant oatmeal and breakfast bars, kids and kid’s families are being fed.”
Students are selected from Blue Ridge, Mountain View and Westwood Elementary schools and Ashe County Middle School. They’re selected by school staff according to those most in need.
“Our first backpack was in 2005,” Brooks said. “We were a pilot program in conjunction with the Second Harvest Food Bank of NC.”
“We started at Blue Ridge (elementary) with 50 (backpacks),” Brooks said. “Today, we focus on the three elementary schools and the middle school.”
Brooks said the focus is on the lower grades because those students represent the age demographic that is considered to be the most developmentally “in need” of good nutrition.
“We do this because child development is most critical at the younger age,” Brooks said. “We’re about feeding the children and the mind.”
“We believe most most kids we’re sending food home to have a family, so we include family staples, that way folks have a better chance of cooking a meal and have a chance to sit down together as a family,” Brooks said.
The backpack program is year-round. Backpacks go home with students on Fridays during the school year and summer months.
In addition to the School Kids Backpack Program, Ashe Outreach has several other programs aimed at feeding local families struggling with food insecurity.
“Over 35,000 lbs. of food is administered through five programs: Mobile Meals delivers 70 meals daily with another 25 fed onsite, Food Pantry serves over 1,000 individuals monthly and Saturday Community Meal serves 30 to 50 folks weekly,” Brooks said. “Out Grow Hunger is an educational program to foster local agri-economic development as a growing initiative to provide fresh produce into our food supply chain while teaching people to grow their own food.”
Ashe Outreach also hosts fish fry fundraisers, the first Friday of every month from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m., at the Riverview Community Center, 11719 NC 88, in Creston.
For more information about Ashe Outreach and their services, contact Brooks at (336) 977-1377 or visit them on the web at www.asheoutreach.org.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.