Food pantry’s backpack program offers more food to students during winter break

Murray-Calloway County Needline Director Tonia Casey showed Local 6 the bare shelves that she she says tells the stories of hundreds of families needing a boost this month.

"This is pretty empty," Casey said.  Six years ago Needline started the children’s backpack food program that provides kids with extra food each Friday that they then take home for the weekend.  Casey said it’s helped feed thousands.

"There’s really no season to when there’s not hunger." she told Local 6’s Robert Bradfield

There are 305 students who participate in the backpack food program.  50 of those students are at Murray Elementary and Principal Denise Whitaker believes the food fills an important void.

"We’ve even had children come in the morning and say that they didn’t have dinner the night before. So, that just concerns us," Whitaker said. 

During the past five years, the number of students on free and reduced lunch at Murray Elementary increased from about a third to now half of her 570 students.  She thinks many more students might qualify, but their parents are too embarrassed to ask for help.  "Our teachers at the beginning of the year are doing home visits and calling parents – trying to build a relationship with parents," she said. 

At Needline, Casey and her volunteers filled backpacks with even more food this week because of the two week winter break.  She said it’s a rewarding experience considering the heartbreaking stories she’s heard.

"There was one little boy who had told his family services worker that he was so hungry that he would eat cardboard to fill the empty spot in his stomach," Casey said. 

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