Almost 1,300 students from grades kindergarten to seniors in Hamblen County will have a backpack and school supplies when school starts Thursday.
Food on Foot of Tennessee has had a mission for the last few years to provide backpacks with school supplies for all grades in Hamblen County Schools. Food on Foot Founder/President Carolyn Jarnagin attributes this to a giving and caring community. She said that all children who registered for a backpack will receive one this year.
“It’s because of this community, they love their children, oh yes, they do,” Jarnagin said. “The community makes the difference in a child’s life, and also where our program begins.”
Students usually come to Food on Foot to get their backpacks, but this year, Hamblen County school staff came Wednesday morning to Food on Foot’s headquarters to pick up the backpacks for each school.
“You know, this is the second year we’ve done it this way. Usually, they come through my building,” Jarnagin said.
The backpacks contains notebooks, pencils, erasers, paper and other supplies to fit each grade level.
Food on Foot’s backpack mission will transition over to its main mission of feeding food to children in after school begins. Children who registered with Food on Foot will take home a bag of food each Friday to last into the weekend when the children will not be in school.
“Our child hunger program goes on all year long,” Jarnagin said. “It takes us two days to deliver the food, starting on Thursday and ending on Friday, then children have the food over the weekend.”
Jarnagin said that the weekend food program packs in excess of 1,000 bags.
All but two Hamblen County schools are served by Food on Foot. The other two schools are served by local churches.
During Jarnagin’s recent absence, the backpack ministry, as well as regular food distribution on Saturdays has continued without missing a beat. That, again, is a tribute to the community.
“People have stepped up while that I’ve not been able to do,” Jarnigan said. “We have had so many volunteers that have stepped up, in fact I’ve had to turn some volunteers away, because we had too many. That way, this community has such a giving spirit and loving heart for these for these kids that don’t have anything. They know about a child that’s going hungry or needs supplies for school, in order to get an education. They don’t just step up, they run to their aid. They really do. And so I’m just excited about the new school year.”
Jarnagin hopes that school will continue uninterrupted this year, but with the Delta Variant of COVID-19 rearing its head, there may be changes to come.
“It helps the children if they have that structure of being in that classroom listening to that expert who is their teacher, you know, and that if there’s a problem, the teacher’s right there to come to their desk and say here’s what we need to do and how we can immediately fix it,” Jarnagin said.
Jarnagin said that the average amount of money spent on backpacks averages $35 each.
“I’ve had volunteers to tell me that they had spent $200 on backpacks and supplies for their children,” Jarnagin said. “So, we’re doing well. Because of the relationships I’ve made with different stores, businesses and everything, we’re able to do it a little cheaper.”
Hamblen County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Perry was appreciative of the work of Food on Foot.
“They have been doing this for numerous years and it has a big impact on the students,” Perry said. ”The first day, some students come to school with a great deal of apprehension. They’re also sometimes worried that they don’t have the necessary school supplies. Food on Foot really helps ease some of that apprehension and anxiety. That is another prime example of how people in our community come through to help students who are at risk of not having things that other children see as normal. It’s also important that those guys work tremendously during the summer. They have a legacy they are leaving and showing folks what we all need to be doing.”
To donate to Food on Foot, mail your donation to P.O. Box, 2129, Morristown, TN 37816.