BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Backpack Blessings is a woman's ministry that works to make sure all children have nutritious meals, seven days a week. It was created by Biloxians Donna Fleenor and Jeanelle Weems three years ago, and has touched hundreds of young lives since.
"These ladies have worked tirelessly and faithfully to ensure that children in nearby schools who receive free lunches are also able to eat on the weekends," Michele Polk wrote in a letter to WLOX. "I admire these wonderful women immensely."
Volunteer Laura Hankins hates to imagine a parent having to send his or her child to bed hungry.
"I don't even know how to put into words, how they would feel," Hankins said.
That's why Hankins and 14 other volunteers, fill backpacks with nutritious food each week for some school children they will never even meet."
"A lot of times it's rewarding because when we get them back, we have little notes that say, 'Thank you so much.' And it does choke you up," volunteer Misty Lusk said.
Teachers and school nurses at Popp's Ferry and North Bay Elementary schools know of students who may get a balanced meal every day during the week, but have to go hungry on the weekends. But not anymore, thanks to these ladies with their huge hearts and bottomless backpacks.
"They get them on Fridays. They have them for the weekend and they bring them back on Monday," Hankins said.
They keep it up every week, and even have a plan for those school breaks.
"We pack each bag depending how many kids are in the family," volunteer Collette Field said. "And what's really fun is when the kids are out of school for the week at Thanksgiving or Christmas time, we pack a bag that will last them through the entire break."
Donna Fleenor and her friend Jeanelle Weems came up with the idea for Backpack Blessings. The members of their church, New Life Family on Popp's Ferry Road in Biloxi, very generously give them all the money to buy the food each week.
"We have cereal, fruit, snacks. They get two entrees per day and juices, everything nutritious. We try to be as nutritious as we can," Fleenor said.
They feed 53 children each weekend for the entire school year, and say the feeling it gives them is hard to explain.
"Makes me feel great. I'm glad I was invited to help and got to know some great ladies too," Hankins said.
And when those empty bags return to be filled up again, there's almost always that grateful little reminder of why they do what they do.
"This little bitty piece of crinkly paper that says, 'Thank you so much.'" Lutz said. "I feel good. We did something to help somebody and we have the energy and the momentum to keep on going."