(Originally posted on GrantCOnnected.net’s website on October 28, 2016)
In 2013, Shirley Saddler, children’s ministry director at Hanfield United Methodist Church, partnered with Allen Elementary School to start a weekend bag program.
According to data collected by Kids Count Data at the Indiana Youth Institute in 2015, 33.3 percent of children and youth under 18 are considered impoverished in Grant County, compared to the state average of 21.9 percent and 22.2 percent nationwide.
More than 90 percent of the students at Allen are on free or reduced lunch, according to Beth Fisher, director of Kids Hope U.S.A. through Hanfield United Methodist Church. Kids Hope also ministers to Allen Elementary.
When the program first started, it was only benefitting 32 students. Now, in the program’s third year, Saddler said her and the team are putting together bags for 124 students.
“It has been really great,” Fisher said. “The school has been really excited they have seen the benefits in their kids.”
The team has two menus that alternate each weekend, including two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks. Fisher said the food items include Ramen noodles, Chef Boyardee cans, soup, applesauce and fruit cups.
According to Saddler, every Thursday night her team gets together and organizes all of the food and puts them into Walmart bags. On Friday morning, the food is hauled to the school and taken into the classrooms.
Nancy Price, a second grade teacher at Allen, has seven children in her class that are eligible for Best Bags. She said the students who receive the bags are not “singled out.”
“The kids know, it’s not even presented as “well why do they get that and I don’t?” Price said. “It’s just kind of an unspoken thing.”
According to Saddler, there are always enough donors who contribute to the funding of the program, and to this day they have “never struggled to have enough.”
Fisher said they have received lots of praise from the parents of the students who receive the bags.
“Parents who have students getting (the bags), some of them almost come to tears, they’re like ‘this has blessed our family so much, it has helped us when we don’t always have quite enough and we don’t know what we would do without it,’” Fisher said. “Just knowing that we could help out that little bit really makes it worth it
Saddler said the Best Bags is an acronym for “Bless each student every day.” She said she is glad that they are helping the students to have enough food over the weekend so they can start the week ready to learn.
“Just to know we can make a difference in Marion, in a school that needs a little extra help is huge,” Saddler said. “I’m just glad we can do a little bit to make a difference.”