Hartsville may be known as the “Heart of Tennessee,” but perhaps nowhere were the hearts of the community best on display than during the recently completed Summer Backpack Program.
The summer program, which just finished its third year, provides food boxes to families of underprivileged school-age children. In addition, for the last two years students have also received new Nike shoes and backpacks containing needed school supplies.
This year, the shoes and backpacks were funded through a grant from the Hartsville Rotary Club, which donated $3,500 and received a matching amount from the Rotary Foundation. Rotary helped fund food with a donation and matching grant in 2016.
“Rotary was happy to help with the Backpack Program again this year,” said Seth Thurman, past president of the Hartsville Club. “It’s a really worthy cause that touches a lot of people’s lives. It’s always good when we can serve our fellow citizens of Trousdale County.”
On Saturday night, a banquet was held at Hartsville’s Church of the Firstborn, where recipients were able to pick up their backpacks and shoes. Volunteers cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and made desserts, and children were also treated to inflatable bounce houses to play in and a fireworks display capped the evening.
Kathy Atwood, Coordinated School Health Supervisor for the school system, was the moving force behind launching the summer program, with assistance from a number of local churches and community leaders.
“Kathy had prayed and wanted to have a backpack program for our children in Hartsville,” said Wayne Andrews, a member of the Church of the Firstborn who has worked with Atwood on both the summer and regular programs.
“Johnny Rolin and other members here at the church also wanted to help folks. They were introduced to a program in Robertson County and said, ‘We can do that here in Hartsville.’ This is a prayer being answered.”
The summer program works hand in hand with the regular Backpack Program, which provides during the school year and has been around for the past several years.
The summer program served around 40 children in its first year in 2015, grew to around 60 last year and served as many as 80 in 2017. The regular backpack program has served as many as 110 children in past years and averaged around 85 last year.
“We work in concert with Second Harvest Food Bank, in how we purchase food and also to the operating standards,” Andrews said. “There are no administrative fees to run the program. All the time and energy, travel, etc., that is truly given.”
Volunteers have also brought fresh vegetables from their own gardens to be used in the program, such as cucumbers and sweet potatoes.
Each Saturday morning during the summer break, church members have joined members of the Rotary Club at the Church of the Firstborn in packing boxes to either be picked up or delivered to those in need.
Employees of Wilson Bank & Trust have also been a consistent help on Saturdays as part of the bank’s challenge to commit to 30 hours of volunteer service in 2017. The bank also donated $1,000 to the Backpack Program earlier this year.
“As part of Wilson Bank’s 30th anniversary and our commitment to the communities we serve, our office chose the Backpack Program,” said branch manager Lisa Beal Dies. “We understand the need for it and it’s something we really believe in and support.”
A garden was planted on church grounds and tended to by the children with help from volunteers. Among items grown were tomatoes, squash and watermelons.
“The community has embraced the program, and now we’re able to expand, including our first year with a community garden,” Andrews added.
Pumpkins were planted last Saturday as well. Plans are to expand the garden next year and perhaps launch an open-air market where children can sell the food they have helped to raise.
“It’s teaching young people how to grow and plant, how to sustain themselves, and how to serve others,” Andrews said. “It’s not just ‘what I did, but how I can give back.’ That’s been a great benefit.”
Andrews also praised how families being helped by the summer program have started to connect and help each other, such as finding clothing or help with various other needs.
“There are seeds being planted that are helping these people, and they’re learning to help others while they’re being served.”
Funding for both the summer and regular programs comes from a number of local organizations, such as Rotary, retired teachers and the Chamber of Commerce, many of Hartsville’s churches and even individual donations to the program’s account at Citizens Bank.
A benefit car show is also scheduled to take place during the upcoming Trousdale County Fair on Saturday, Aug. 5. All proceeds will benefit the backpack program.
“The love and kindness is from so many organizations and people who don’t want to be recognized; they just want to embrace what we’re doing,” Andrews said. “It’s Hartsville’s backpack program.”
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or email@example.com.