Backyard Blessings is a Sumiton-based nonprofit that addresses the needs of hungry children from struggling families by providing bags of food that students take home from school on weekends. Leneda Jones, the group’s founder and executive director, said she was shocked at the amount of hungry children in Walker County.
“We’re not talking about a Third World country or even the inner city,” she said. “We are talking about Sumiton, Alabama. I just could not live with the fact that children in my own backyard were going hungry. I had to do something about it.”
Backyard Blessings currently helps 189 students at Sumiton Elementary/Middle School and T.S. Boyd Elementary School. Each child receives a bag full of food that will provide them with meals and snacks for the weekend. The food is discreetly placed in each child’s backpack before the end of school each Friday. Jones said the food is child-friendly, nonperishable, easily consumed and vitamin fortified. Typical food bags include microwavable soups or pastas, Beanee Weenees, Easy Mac, juice boxes, fruit cups, raisins, pudding cups, cheese crackers, instant oatmeal, hot chocolate mix and cookies.
“We give them a variety of things, but they are all items that are easy enough that the child can make them for themselves if necessary,” she said.
Most of the food is purchased at Bozeman’s Associated Foods in Sumiton or at Sam’s Club, Jones said. The group is currently providing about $1,000 worth of food per week to children in east Walker County, but the demand is growing.
“We’ve had three other schools in Walker County to inquire about starting the program there,” Jones said. “We would love to do that, but it will take more food, money and help. I’m sure that God will provide, and I’d love to see this idea in every school in Walker County.”
Backyard Blessings purchases the food solely from money received from donations. Jones said several individuals, churches and businesses regularly donate to the program. The Alabama Power Service Organization donated $1,000 in food earlier this week.
“We heard about this project and wanted to do something to help,” said Orlando Thomas, an APSO representative. “When you hear the stories of the children who are hungry in our area, you want to do whatever you can to help.”
Lee Ann Headrick, a member of the Backyard Blessings board of directors, said the group appreciates any donation.
“Donations are how we are able to do what we do,” she said. “We need more so we can do more. We will accept food or monetary donations.”
The food is separated each week by volunteers.
“We meet each Thursday morning, and it takes us about two to three hours to separate it into each bag,” Jones said. “Then we take them directly to the schools.”
Jones said the group is currently going through the process of becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
“Once we get that status, we will be able to apply for grants, which will help us with expansion possibilities,” she said.
For more information on Backyard Blessings, contact Jones at 205-544-9094.