Group feeds needy children, one backpack at a time


The 36 children participating in the Head Start program at the Harriet Tubman Center in Columbia receive two meals a day, Monday through Friday, during the school year. But the Howard County chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women felt something more could be done.

"No one looks after the children over the weekend," said Marcia Frezza. "A lot of parents work or they go to school. We want to make sure that the children are getting something nutritional over the weekend."

So Frezza and the NCJW, along with the Maryland Food Bank, are providing healthy foods on the weekend for the 36 children and their siblings through a program called Backpack Buddies.

"Sometimes the meals the children receive at school are the only healthy meals that they receive all week," said Frezza, co-chair of the program. "A lot of organizations have talked about doing this, but couldn't get it started."

The idea took shape a year-and-a-half ago, and the program started in September.

"NCJW put up $5,000 to fund the program," Frezza said, adding that the group is seeking federal grant funds. "If more people would donate more money, we would certainly go and do more than just Head Start."

During the week, the women gather food from the Maryland Food Bank and pack 36 backpacks that are given to students Friday for use over the weekend.

"We were just going to do the 36 students, but we knew that it wouldn't be fair to feed the student and their siblings go hungry," Frezza said. "With the students and their siblings, we feed about 80 children. We pack enough for one complete meal, with protein and carbohydrates and cereal and bread."

With more than 105,000 children in Maryland living below the federal poverty line, Tyrone Eaton, program coordinator for the Maryland Food Bank, said the program helps children who can't help themselves.

"Children are in a special category," Eaton said. "They can't make decisions on what they are going to eat. Our goal is to make sure that individuals take food in abundance and take it to the community. We want to do as much as we can to prevent children from going hungry and teach them about proper nutrition."

Eaton said the relationship between NCJW and the Food Bank is a successful one that he hopes will spark other programs.

"If there are organizations who want to contribute to the solution of children going hungry, then we definitely want to partner with them," Eaton said, adding that the Food Bank covers all of Maryland except two counties.

As a mother of three elementary-school-age children, Wendy Scherer said the program is critical to children's development.

"Nothing is more important than our children, and if they have everything that they need to excel, then we end up with a better society down the road," said Scherer, president of the Howard County chapter of NCJW.

While the program was started by NCJW, Hattie Katkow said the community should be encouraged to volunteer.

"We have a number of people who are not members who are helping," said Katkow, the NCJW volunteer coordinator for the program. "...It's probably the most worthwhile project that we have ever done, and the families seem very appreciative. We would hope that other organizations would continue it in other schools."

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