GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Blessings in a Backpack volunteers are delivering fewer bags of food to three elementary schools; an indication that the program which feeds hundreds of needy children in Harrison County could be in jeopardy.
It only takes 20 minutes to pack all the food that filled a long table, but, that's not what the volunteers want to see.
"I want everybody to be super busy. That would be great," said program coordinator Leslie Anderson.
Every Thursday, volunteers gather at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport to pack food for three schools: 28th Street Elementary, Central Elementary, and Three Rivers Elementary School. On Fridays, the bags are placed in the backpacks of needy students, so they can have food to eat on the weekend.
Volunteers used to pack around 400 bags a week, but now that number has dropped to 200. The reason — the 2015 grant for the program has dropped from $40,000 to $8,000.
"It was a big shock, because we just found out in August. So it didn't give us much time to prepare or let the schools know so they might could have made other arrangements. So we're just trying to regroup and make the community aware that we are in desperate need of donations," said Anderson.
Former teacher Vicki Lawrence knows what the donations mean to hungry children. She has been helping out since the program began four years ago.
"The children need so much, and if they don't have food in their stomachs, they're not going to learn," said Lawrence.
As long as the food keeps coming, there are plenty of people willing to pack the bags.
"You hear about hunger all over the world, but I think people don't realize it's in our own community and it's so great of a need. Most of the schools we serve have 98 to 99 percent of their student population on free or reduced lunch, and that's what we try to target," said Anderson.
The program needs an additional $20,000 to continue operating through the rest of the school year. If you'd like to donate or volunteer, just contact the church at (228) 863-2717.