Volunteers fill backpacks for for Mon County schools snack program

MORGANTOWN — Each Wednesday, In the early afternoon, on Wednesdays, volunteers pack more than 800 bags of food at Scott’s Run Settlement House.
The Backpack Snack Program operates throughout the school year, and uses volunteers at 1 p.m., usually taking two hours to pack the number of bags.
The Backpack Snack Program was created in 2011, and the purpose is to provide weekend food for students who rely on their schools’ breakfasts and lunches. When the program initially launched, it serviced only two schools. Fast-forward eight years, and 12 schools are served each week in Monongalia County.
The schools are Brookhaven, Cheat Lake, Clay-Battelle Middle and High, Mason-Dixon, Mountaineer, Mountainview, Mylan, North, Suncrest Elementary, University and three Alternative Learning Center sites.
After the bags are packed, they are sent to the schools on Thursdays and the students receive their bags on Fridays.
Shay Petitto, executive director at Scott’s Run Settlement House, said the need for food is growing in the area, and according to statistics from the United States Census Bureau, West Virginia has the sixth highest childhood poverty rate in the U.Ss.
“I think people view (Monongalia County) as a successful county. There’s the university and there’s all of these thriving businesses, companies and corporations here, but there is also a lot of poverty,” Petitto said.
Petitto said in addition to the settlement house’s services during the school year, it also serves students who go to Energy Express sites in Monongalia County, and offers pick-up bags if the student does not go to Energy Express. Petitto said they try to meet the need during the summertime as best as they can.
The Morgantown Board of Realtors also helps fundraise for the program. Petitto said they do direct mailing when preparing to start the program back up during the school year. The settlement house also hosts a fundraiser at the end of August at Mountain State Brewing Co. to raise awareness for the program.
The program relies on grant-writing and donations to continue to help children at the schools, and Petitto said every little bit helps. She said the program is anonymous, but to see the measure of success through each school, they send out parent surveys at the beginning and end of each school year.
The surveys have shown an improved attention and behavior in students as a result of the program. In addition to that, it has helped home life and allowed families to be released of the financial burden; having to choose between a water bill or food on the table is not as much of a concern with the program helping so many families, according to Petitto.
“The impact is really significant,” Petitto said. “Just being able to increase the amount of food available to the home and making that impact is definitely very meaningful and I think that the program is really important and makes a huge impact on a lot of lives.”
There are a number of volunteers from area groups who help pack those bags each week.
Linda Grimes is a volunteer, but represents no other organization, she just shows up to help and has been for two years.
“I’m the bag lady,” Grimes said.
Grimes is in charge of picking up bags for the program every other week. She gets the bags donated by Target, and she said they have the best bags and “hold up under stress.”
Petitto said Grimes is an “all-star” when it comes to helping pack food for the children.
Grimes said before volunteering,she was unaware of all the contributions the settlement house provides to the community, including a farmer’s market and food pantry.
“It’s opened my eyes to what Scott’s Run does for the community,” Grimes said. “It’s a worthwhile organization and that’s why I’m down here.”
Courtney LaFollette, program coordinator, said everyone is welcome to come and encourages those in the community to help pack bags.
For more information about the program, contact Scott’s Run Settlement House at 304-599-5020.

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