How volunteers in Warren County are making sure school kids don’t go hungry

WARREN COUNTY, Mo. - Volunteers and first responders in Warren County are working to make sure no child goes hungry. When the Warren County R-III School District transitions to a four-day school week in the 2019-2020 school year, the need for help will be even greater.

At present, an estimated 186 students in the district depend on Operation Backpack for weekend meals. Students in need, from pre-school through high school, are sent home each weekend with enough food for six meals.

Students are identified by teachers and school counselors. Students may remain on the list for as long as the need is there.

Since co-directors Marilyn Carter and Cheryl Portillo took over the program about six years ago, they say the number of students being helped at any given time has increased more than 600 percent.

According to Carter, each bag of food is valued at $7. The program relies on monetary and food donations from the community.

When the school district calendar shifts this fall and students have a three-day weekend, the program expects its expenses will go up several hundred dollars each week. Carter and Portillo said the feedback they get from teachers and counselors who work with the students is what motivates them to keep going.

Carter described a story about a little girl in grade school whose parents left her and her younger sister alone all weekend.

"She had food because she had her Backpack food, and she was able to feed her little sister," said Carter. "It's things like that. When you hear that, all of this is worth it."

Operation Backpack has teamed up with the Warrenton Fire Protection District. Firefighters help with unloading, sorting and bagging food.

Emergency or not, Capt. Brett Owenby says helping the community is a priority for his team, and they see the need firsthand.

"It's quite frequent that we do see these homes that there's not a lot of food and there's not a lot of things for these children to eat," he said.

Donations of money or kid-friendly, non-perishable food items are always needed. Monetary donations can be made to the Warren County R-III School District WISE Foundation. To coordinate a food donation, call 636-456-5802.

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