Ministry feeds children at Porter Ridge Elementary, hopes to expand
Thanks to a recently launched program, children at Porter Ridge Elementary won’t go hungry over the weekend.
Book Bags of Love’s Idlewild Baptist Church branch supplies bags filled with nonperishable food items to approximately a dozen Porter Ridge students each week.
“The kids we reach out to get free lunch at school, but when they go home, they don’t have any food,” Travis Byrd, associate minister of Idlewild Baptist, said. “These kids literally will go hungry if they don’t get this food.”
The Mint Hill church began reaching out to the school in the fall of 2011. Idlewild had already been serving two Mecklenburg County schools for a number of months when Michele Turner, a member of Idlewild Baptist and a teacher at Porter Ridge Elementary, felt a need to bring the ministry to her school.
“I saw the need in our own church, so I suspected there were students (at Porter Ridge) who had the same needs,” Turner said.
Turner reached out to the school’s guidance counselor, Nan Saunders, to get the program started at Porter Ridge. Saunders immediately agreed to work with the church to provide food to these students. “I had never thought a whole lot about kids not eating over the weekend,” Saunders said. “I was very humbled by it. This has been a huge blessing for the children.”
Church member Hannah Yeary began volunteering with Book Bags of Love last year and delivers the bags to Porter Ridge every Thursday. Yeary was drawn to the program because she has seen firsthand a need in the community for food.
“Traveling to different spots in Union County, I noticed a lot of sad cases,” Yeary said. “I see people counting change in the grocery store, houses going into foreclosure in our neighborhood. I figure if people are moving out (because they can’t afford housing), they’re probably not able to buy food, either.”
Taking the first step to reach out to more of Union County, Yeary has set up a donation box at Stay N Play childcare center in Indian Trail, where individuals can bring food. But the ministry is otherwise stretched as thin as it can be at this point in time. It will take more churches and businesses to have a greater impact on the county.
“I know there’s a lot of need in Union County, but (Porter Ridge) is the only school we take on right now,” Mindy Clark, who organizes the ministry at Idlewild, said. “It’s a wonderful idea to get more churches involved. It’s a community ministry, and so there are other churches that are in the community that could support it as well.”
Book Bags of Love was started in 2010 by Barry Smith, a member of Blair Road United Methodist Church in Mint Hill. Smith had a vision to supply children in need with food to eat during the weekend. After the program’s success at Lebanon Road Elementary, Smith contacted Byrd, and the two churches joined forces to bring Book Bags of Love to more community schools.
Members of Idlewild Baptist pitch in by donating food items, such as macaroni and cheese, Pop-Tarts, canned beans, peanut butter, jelly, tuna, crackers and Ramen noodles. The ministry uses weekly e-mails and a Facebook group to keep members updated on items needed. Four different menus are rotated so the children aren’t receiving the same items each week.
If there is a shortage of items, volunteers secure additional funds from a Book Bags of Love account shared with Blair Road United Methodist and shop for the week’s necessities. Other organizations and individuals have pitched in to help with Book Bags of Love as well. A local Food Lion donated prepackaged food boxes in the spring. Surrounding churches have used training programs and vacation Bible school events to collect and donate items to Book Bags of Love.
Each Wednesday evening at the church, volunteers pack the items into nylon bags donated by various corporations, making sure the bags are not too heavy for the average school-aged child to carry. Families with multiple children are supplied one bag per child.
Having seen the children’s faces light up when they receive the food, Saunders firmly believes the program is essential to the community and should definitely be expanded to cover more of Union County. “(Book Bags of Love) is absolutely necessary,” Saunders said. “It’s been a huge success for us, and it’s something I think every school should have.”
Want to help?
Community members, churches or businesses wishing to get involved can contact the church at 704-847-6565 or join the Facebook group, “Book Bags of Love Ministry at Idlewild Baptist Church.” Donations also can be dropped off at Stay N Play, located at 6751 Old Monroe Road in Indian Trail.