Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – The Backpack Project

Name: Cara Lowry Barker
From: Petal, MS
Grade: High School Senior
School: Petal High School
Votes: 144

Clearly the little boy was
upset as he ran to the counselor gripping his second backpack on 
Wednesday . He missed Monday and Tuesday, the days to return your backpack back
to receive food on 
Friday. He ran to the counselor in tears, afraid he would not get food on
Friday.

The Petal Backpack Project started from a volunteer opportunity I had 4 years ago. I helped

another church pack food backpacks in a neighboring town. My parents
discouraged me from this 
taking

on this task because of the huge time commitment, especially for a
sophomore. They stressed that if I

were to do this project, it would be every single week, no matter what.
But this was a need that I felt I could help

meet. So I did my research, spoke with the primary school, and started
fundraising. My efforts included talking to

churches, civic organizations, and even writing and receiving a grant.
Fundraising became a continuous part of the

project. Once I had secured a thousand dollars, we asked the teachers for
help identifying the students.

My initial goal was 20 students, but when I talked to the counselor at
the school, she told me she sent

out 36 permission slips! I had only ever considered starting with 20
backpacks. When 25 permission

slips were returned, I didn’t know how I would feed all of them, more
fundraising! 
It didn’t take long before
Petal Backpack became routine: I was buying food on Wednesdays and

packing on Thursdays. I took the bags of food to the school on Friday morning
and dropped them off

with the counselor, and no matter what was going on, this routine never
changed. I couldn’t and

wouldn’t let these kids down. The end of the first year I sent home
approximately 575 bags of food. l

soon realized some of these kids would be moving to the next school. It
was time to expand the

program. However, more participants meant more money. I had to ask other
churches to take part in


the project. Fortunately, I was able to utilize pre-established church/school partnerships to
begin Petal 
Backpack

in other schools. I met with the churches and showed them my
information: the research, the  
data,
and my personal contributions. Through these meetings I was able to
help them set up their own  
backpack
projects. By the end of my second year, I had doubled our numbers in
the primary school and  m
ore
than tripled them district-wide.

Currently, the project is in
its third year, and in three of the five schools in my school 
district.
It is in all three elementary schools, and my goal is to have it in
the middle and high

school before I graduate. Through this project I learned compassion for
others and a dedication

to kids that I have never met. In the end I might not be able to feed
every hungry child but I will 
always do what I can.


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