NEWS on LIFE, WORK, & PLAY in Mississippi's College Town

2016 SRW Charity Profile: Starkville Backpack Buddies

Starkville Restaurant Week is almost here, and one of the things we’re most excited about is showcasing our three Charity Finalists who have been nominated by the community. For the past four years, Cadence Bank, our Gold Charity Sponsor, has generously provided $5000 to the local charity receiving the most ballots during Restaurant Week. This money is applied to local programs which directly affect Starkville and Oktibbeha County through the work of the winning organization. Restaurant Week eaters play a huge role in continuing that tradition of community service. Every time you eat at one of our 29 participating restaurants, you will have the opportunity to vote on which charity you feel is most deserving of the prize!

This week, we will be sharing profiles of each of our three Charity Finalists so that you can learn more about their work and their impact on the community. Each profile also contains information about how you can support and join in the good work accomplished be each organization.




backpack_buddies300How long has your organization been in operation and how was it founded.

 In the spring of 2012, a student at Starkville High School faithfully attended after school tutoring though it appeared to the teacher in charge that the young man really did not need to be there. When he asked the student why he was coming everyday, the student pulled out the snack he had been given and said, “this is my supper”. When a Sunday School Class at Starkville First United Methodist Church heard this story, individuals decided to contact the Starkville School district nutrition director to see if she thought this was a problem that affected more students. She said that there was a problem of students coming to school on Monday mornings hungry. The Mississippi Food Network in Jackson, MS, was contacted and The Backpack Meals Program, which is part of Feed America, was explained. This is how The Backpack Meals Program in the Starkville Oktibbeha County School District began.

FUMC then partnered with the MFN and the SOCSD in a seven-week pilot program with 32- 3rd grade students later that spring. The Backpack Meals program has expanded each year and now in its fourth year provides meals for 192 students in grades K-8th. This program now impacts 136 families in Starkville.

bpb1Backpack Meals is a referral program, which identifies students who are not being fed properly on the weekends and come to school hungry on Monday morning. Studies have shown that children who have enough healthy food to eat perform better in school. A Backpack Meal bag consists of 2 breakfasts and 2 lunch/dinner meals. Fresh fruit is also given out weekly. The cost per meal bag is $5.00. Volunteers go to the schools each Friday and either pack meals to be distributed to the students by counselors or pack meals directly into the student’s backpack as they leave for the bus or carpool. There are over 200 volunteers that help in different aspects of the Backpack Meals program each year.

This fall The Backpack Meals Program through a grant from the MFN began a Family Food Pantry once a month for Backpack families. Each Family receives a family meal box that contains 4 nutritious meals for a family of four and fresh produce. Students from the MSU Nutrition Department prepare an “on the spot meal” using items from the meal box along with the fresh produce that the family members can sample. Educational information is also distributed . College students from the MSU Wesley Hunger Pod along with other adult volunteers distribute the Family Meal Boxes.

bpb4What is your organization’s on-going mission?

  • To provide meals to hungry students on Fridays: Backpack Meals Program provides meals to all K through 8th grade students in 6 schools in the Starkville Oktibbeha School District- Sudduth Elementary (K-2nd), East Elementary (K-5th), West Elementary (K-5th), Ward Stewart Elementary (3rd-4th), Henderson Elementary (5th) and Armstrong Middle School (6th-8th).
  • To bring the community together to stop hunger in Starkville: We are working with over 200 volunteers from 19 local organizations.
  • To plant seeds of volunteerism and giving back to the community: We work with elementary children in a local Girl Scout group, a Jr. High and Sr. High youth group, MSU college students as well as adults of all ages to inspire volunteerism.

Our Backpack Meals Program Objective is to:

  • Reduce hunger in the Starkville Octibbeha county School District by providing a referred student with 4 nutritious meals per weekend during the school year.
  • Reduce obesity and promote better food selection.
  • Improve school attendence.
  • Improve grades.
  • Improve attention spans.
  • Improve behavior.
  • Improve overall health.
  • Improve disposition.
  • Provide a situation for a student to feel cared about.
  • Improve a students self-esteem.

Our goal for the 2016-2017 school year is to expand The Backpack Meals Program to Starkville High School (grades 9-12th).

Does your organization work with any other groups or non-profit organizations to accomplish its mission?

First United Methodist Church Partners with The Starkville Oktibbeha School District and the Mississippi Food Network to Operate the Backpack Meals Program with these supporters:

bpb3Starkville Junior Auxiliary
Starkville Church of Christ
Cornerstone Baptist Church
Knights of Columbus-St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Meadowview Baptist Church
Kiwanis Club
Rotary Club
MSU Interfraternity Council
MSU Future Educators Association
MSU Student Dietetic Association
MSU Food Science Department
MSU Lambda Sigma Honor Society
MSU Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
MSU Kappa Alpha Fraternity
MSU Wesley Foundation
Girl Scout Troop 320
FUMC Youth Group
Individual Donors 

In what ways does your organization impact Starkville and the Golden Triangle area?

According to the 2014 US Census, the population of Oktibbeha County is 49,414. and the population for Starkville, MS, is 24,775. The per capita income in the county is $20,202 and for Starkville is $21,174. The persons below poverty level for the county is 33.7% and for Starkville is 32.6%. The Mississippi person below poverty level is 22.7%. The free and reduced lunch program in the Starkville Oktibbeha County School District for the 2014-2015 school year was 70%. The Starkville Oktibbeha County School District offers free breakfast and lunch on Monday-Friday to all school age students in the summer at two schools. There are 6 food pantries that serve Starkville, MS and Oktibbeha County. The Backpack Meals program is the only program operating in Oktibbeha County that provides meals specificially for K-8th grade students to have food over the weekend. Meals can be opened, and used by a kindergarten student without parent supervision. Refrigeration and heating is not needed. Students must attend school on Fridays to receive a Backpack Meal and student attendence has improved.

Can you briefly share one of your success stories?

Observation and feedback by the principal, teachers, counselors, school nurse and cafeteria managers in each school have seen student improvements in:

  • Attendance
  • Grades
  • Classroom behavior
  • Longer attention spans
  • Happier disposition

The students look forward to getting their Backpack Meal on Friday and especially love seeing what kind of fresh fruit they receive.

Where can people go to learn more about your organization, and how can people get involved?

bpb2Interested individuals can go to the First United Methodist Church Website for Backpack Meals information or to make a donation to the program: (and click on Backpack under ministries)

Individuals can also contact FUMC by phone at 662-323-5722 to be put in touch with Susan Tomlinson, the Backpack Meals Volunteer Coordinator.

Individuals can help The Backpack Meals Program by:

  1. Collecting items and packing meals
  2. Making a donation to purchase meals from MFN and fresh fruit
  3. Work with fundraising-The cost for meals is $1,000.00 per week
  4. Distributing meals into backpacks
  5. Moving meals to schools
  6. Assisting with The Family Food Pantry night
  7. Collecting canned food for The Family Food Pantry

You’re one of our Top Three SRW Charities! Now tell us what it means to you to be included as part of Starkville Restaurant Week as one of the Top Three Charities.

Being one of the Top Three Charities in the Starkville Restaurant Week is really a reflection of the many volunteers that have supported The Backpack Meals Program for the last 4 years. It only takes each of us doing just a little to help others and we will make a big difference in our community.   Making sure that there is not a single child in Starkville going to bed hungry at night is a goal worth being a part of. Thank you for supporting our children by voting for The Backpack Program during Starkville Restaurant Week.