ROCK CAVE — A group of Rock Cave Elementary School students depart from school each Friday with full backpacks – but they’re not necessarily brimming only with books.
Instead, thanks to several local community organizations, those backpacks are filled with healthy food to keep the students’ stomachs full over the stretch of the weekend, when they may not have anything else at home to eat.
This past Friday, the local Elks Lodge, Post 1736 stepped up as the organization responsible for stuffing the backpacks with cereal, juice, pudding, yogurt, poptarts, cheese, crackers, soup, juice and more.
Donna Matthews, esquire in the Elks Lodge No. 1736, said the Rock Cave Elementary school Backpack program, which provides students in need with food to eat over the weekend, has been consistently in operation since 2013.
“In 2017, we’re serving 56 students, which is an increase of almost 20 students from last year,” Matthews said.
The Elks Lodge receives private donations from community members, local churches, Sunday school programs and other groups such as the Leo Club to pay for the goods.
But the biggest sources of funding is a $2,000 grant the Elks Lodge applies for and receives from the state.
The Elks Lodge obtains the supplies from Wendling’s with occasional help from the Rock Cave IGA, Matthews said.
Mary Hyre, cafeteria manager, said the program is growing increasingly important to students.
“There is a great need in this county with the lack of jobs in this community,” Hyre said. “There has been a change in the family unit in the past 25 years. More and more, students are living with grandparents who are on a fixed income.”
This growing trend makes the food sent home with kids in need all the more valuable.
Matthews says stuffing backpacks pays dividends, but not the material kind.
“The expression on the kids’ faces makes it worthwhile,” she said. “People think the Elks is just a social quarter, but it’s not. We do for the community, especially when it comes to our veterans and youth. We’ve always enjoyed doing it.”
The Elks Lodge No. 1736 is just one of several organizations that takes turns filling backpacks full of food each Friday. Other participating entities include the Lions Club, Appalachian Impact and Eastern Star.