GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - This number may surprise you. According to the Gulfport School District, 94-percent of students at 28th Street Elementary are on the free lunch program. When the weekends arrive, many of those students go home hungry. Some dedicated volunteers are pitching in to feed children in need.
Every Thursday, a line forms at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport. Volunteers gather to fill nearly 500 plastic bags with nutritious snacks and non-perishable food items. They show up every week with smiles on their faces.
"I'm happy about the thought of what will come from this," said volunteer Gail Bishop.
This "Blessings in a Backpack" program started two years ago, when Leslie and Curt Patton adopted 28th Street Elementary School.
"I knew there was a need in our community, but I did not realize the magnitude of the need. Their enrollment is currently about 430 kids. That means 399 are living below the poverty level," said Patton.
The couple and their friends initially packed food for about 25 students, so they'll have food to eat on the weekends.
"We packed it either at my house or office and then we got the grant from Walmart Corporation for $40,000. We got to do 400 kids at the school, so that allowed us to grow," said Patton.
Last week, the organization added Three Rivers Elementary to its list. Now, 65-students at that school also get some food in their backpacks to take home every Friday.
"They truly are so appreciative and get excited over this bag of food, so it just makes it totally worth it," said Patton. "It's just something that we loved. It's something I look forward to every week."
And the volunteers seemed just as eager to pitch in to get the job done.
"I think it's a great way to give back to the community. These children just need it and they're so happy to have this blessing upon them. But ultimately, we're the ones that are blessed," said Anne Warren, a long time volunteer.
"When the children are fed and feel good or happy, then obviously they're going to learn better, pay attention, because they're not going to be sitting in class hungry or worrying what they're going to eat. It kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off the kids," said Patton.
"Blessings in a Backpack" plans to adopt a third school in the Gulfport area next school year.
It costs about $1,300 to purchase the food every week. If you would like to contribute or volunteer, you can call Trinity UMC at (228) 863-2717.