“It’s scary to think about signing on with a kid, that you’re going to give them food every single weekend,” Compton said. “We had to get brave enough to do it.”
Through the program, spread in Durham by Communities in Schools, Compton and Silberman collect non-perishable food donations and, every Thursday, pack six meals’ worth into backpacks that go home with students over the weekend. The backpacks have become a reliable source of nutrition in families fallen on hard times, who otherwise can’t count on being able to put food on the table.
Compton and Silberman decided to make a commitment to running the program when they saw how readily their neighbors would support it. All it took was one e-mail over the Watts Hospital-Hillandale listserv, and suddenly Compton and Silberman would have weeks’ worth of food items dropped off on their back porches.
Ever since, support has only grown. Other neighborhoods, like Old West Durham and Trinity Park, have sent in donations; local businesses have hosted food drives; recipient families have pitched in at the food pantry; and three Duke students worked to round up donations and volunteered every week to stock the backpacks.
Seeing the big impact those students were able to make gave Compton and Silberman hope that a university partnership could make the whole program sustainable.
“We got the glimmer of what could be possible, working with just these three students,” Compton said.
The program’s reception at E.K. Powe has Compton and Silberman thinking of how to keep it going well into the future. Teachers have felt incredibly supported by the program, Silberman said, now that they feel able to reach out to their students who might need donated food or other items, such as coats in the winter.
But the reaction from the students has been the greatest reward, Compton and Silberman said.
“You sometimes worry that kids will be embarrassed, picking up their food backpacks every weekend,” Silberman said. “But we have kids coming up and saying, ‘Hey, we want a backpack too!'”
Meg Goodhand, a teacher at E.K. Powe and Watts Hospital-Hillandale resident, shared a story over the neighborhood listserv about how the backpack program led to a discussion among her third graders about the importance of giving back and of caring for their classmates. Some students even chimed in about how the backpack program was helping their families.
“The very next day one of the girls returned to school and told me in private that her mom had given permission to talk to me about how they are able to eat only one meal a day (at school) because their funds are so limited. These students’ families will be added now to this wonderful program,” Goodhand wrote in her January 17 e-mail.
“I hope this story relays the incredible need and my great gratitude for the support you all give to help our students at your neighborhood school. Your contributions make a huge difference in these families lives and their gratitude is evident daily!”
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