Backpack program at RJR full of promise

Of the 1,800 students in the school, 45 percent receive free or reduced price lunch.  Winston-Salem has been consistently ranked one of the top cities in the nation with regard to hunger. One in four kids in North Carolina goes without having enough food.  This year at Reynolds, a new program is being implemented to combat this problem-The Backpack Program.  There are many other schools in the Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools district that have similar programs, which have been very successful in providing food for students over weekends and long breaks.

“This is the first year that we’ve ever had it [at RJR],” Dr. Amy Williams said about the program.  “It was an idea I had just over a year ago, when I’d heard other high schools talking about having one when I was at a conference for counselors over the summer.”

Students involved in the program will receive meals on Fridays and be able to take the food home over the weekend for themselves or family members.

“There are others in economic need who may not qualify for free or reduced lunch, but still there’s need,” Dr. Williams said.

Hunger is a growing problem in the United States and is especially hard on children and teenagers.  In order for teens to grow and maintain a healthy weight, a range of 1,800 to 2,400 calories is needed everyday, depending on age and gender.  The effects of not receiving enough food can be very detrimental to students’ ability to learn, focus and socialize.  Hunger has also proven to stunt growth and cause elevated levels of anxiety and aggression.

Junior Willie Casstevens has helped with the Backpack Program in its early stages.

“I have been involved by helping counting and boxing the food for the Backpack Program,” Casstevens said.  “I think it is a really great program and it will benefit Reynolds students well.”

Dr. Williams is very encouraging of students who wish to get involved in the initiative.

“The students who have been involved in the program seem very happy and grateful to be involved,” she commented.  “We had a lot of parents and students donate additional food right before thanksgiving in order to provide a little bit of extra during their break and we intend to give out a little bit extra during the winter break.”

Interested students can come by Guidance and pick up a form, which their parent or guardian will need to sign.  All names of participants are held in confidence and the program is completely free.

Service clubs and student volunteers are also encouraged to help with unloading food and moving it to Guidance.

Dr. Williams is very optimistic about the program and believes it has the capability of being very successful and beneficial to many students.

“I would love for students who are interested in being involved to come take the form home and get their parent or guardian to sign it,” Dr. Williams said.  “I’d love to see [the program] expand.”