This past summer, Patterson Federal Credit Union took on the backpack program as its community project after holding a “Pay It Forward” social media campaign. The campaign offered to give $25 to a Clark County resident to pay forward to a local charity. One respondent, Candie McClain, acknowledged the Arkadelphia Public Schools’ backpack program.

McClain’s response spurred Shawn Cowart, president and CEO of Patterson Federal Credit Union,and Nicole McGough, Vice President of Business Development and former teacher at Goza Middle School, to get involved with Project CARE. McGough met with the counselors at each school building to see how their needs could be met.

“Unfortunately, I think many of the members of our community are not aware of how many children are food insecure,” McGough said. “As a former teacher, I knew that the counselors sent home food with many children; however even in that position, I wasn’t aware of how great the need was. I am hopeful that by hosting big food drives in schools and local businesses, posting often on social media, and talking more about this issue that more people become aware and help these children in any way they can. I am confident that as a community we would all like to ensure that no children are going hungry.”

Patterson began their involvement by sponsoring food drives at Perritt Primary School, Central Primary School, Peake Elementary School and Goza Middle School. Perritt, Central and Peake held a competition among classes in each grade. The class that brought in the most food donations was rewarded a pizza party. Goza held a competition between sixth, seventh and eighth grade. The grade level that brought in the most donations was rewarded an extra recess.

Patterson’s aid has extended into the community as local businesses and offices are now hosting food drives in their workplaces.

“It is very validating to have someone support your program,” Peake Elementary School Counselor Paula Keeling said. “We have done this every year, but this year I am really proud of our community and how they are stepping up and making a difference in so many lives. It helps the people that receive the food, but I also see growth and smiles from the students that give to the program. Everyone wants to be involved, you just have to provide that opportunity.”

The first business to participate in the community food drive was Alumacraft. Alumacraft held a competition within their departments and collected 664 pounds of food for the backpack program.

The most recent business to donate was the Clark County offices. Each office competed to see who could bring in the most food items. As a whole, they brought in 10,131 individual items. The road and sanitation team won with a total of 4,905 items.

The City of Arkadelphia will be hosting the next food drive starting in the last week of March and first week of April.

“I have been beyond impressed with how this program has taken off,” McGough said. “I was confident that our school food drives would go well, but the businesses have really shocked me. I am so thankful to Alumacraft and the Clark County offices for the food drives they have hosted. I am excited to see how much the city offices are able to collect. And we now have people contacting me so that they can host their own drives. It’s extremely heartwarming to see our community taking care of its own like this.”

Other civic groups and churches that have donated and contributed to the success of the backpack program include Kiwanis, Extension Homemakers, Democratic Women, Alpha Sigma Tau Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Church of Christ, Tigers and Reddies for Christ, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist and Second Baptist. The school counselors have received grants from the CONE Foundation, Ross Foundation, Clark County Community Foundation and Giving Tree. Arkadelphia Walmart has donated a gift card to help purchase water bottles, and Brookshire’s supplied grocery bags to help pack items.

“The students served by the backpack program are extremely thankful for the extra food support,” Charlotte Dewitt, counselor at Central Primary School, said. “They are generous with thank you and hugs often reminding us first thing Friday morning that it is backpack day. The program leads to greater home-school relations. There is an instant trust factor when you are feeding their kids.”

The school backpack program helps provide nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for students in need. Backpacks of food are sent home with students every Friday, or whenever there is a need.

If you are interested in donating to the backpack program, here are some items that work well in backpacks for our children: water bottles, ramen noodles, individual microwaveable items (soups, macaroni and cheese, raviolis, etc.), canned meat, pudding, applesauce, peanut butter, crackers, popcorn, fruit roll ups, cups of fruit, or individually wrapped items (protein bars, chips, granola, cereal, oatmeal, etc.).

Food, money or gift card donations are accepted at any school building, as well as Patterson Federal Credit Union on 124 WP Malone Dr. in Arkadelphia, Ark.

“This program is vital,” Dewitt said. “The struggles to keep it going are worth it as keeping kids fed is not only vital to their health, but it is vital to their education.”

Arkadelphia Public Schools appreciate Patterson Federal Credit Union and the Arkadelphia community for its’ help in making our backpack program a continued success.

Arkadelphia Public Schools serves more than 2,000 students in Clark County, Arkansas, ranging from 6-weeks-old through college- and career-readiness - and is home of the Arkadelphia Promise.

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