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Feeding Children with United Way and Backpacks of Love 

Melodie Lane has devoted her professional life to children. An employee of McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill, Ga., she has been with the Bryan County school system for almost 20 years. She noticed a growing issue with hunger, and when two boys were in her office on a Monday morning and said they had not eaten since school on Friday, she knew she had to do something. That’s when she created Backpacks of Love.

“We started out in 2012 handing out 25 backpacks of food to children each week. The principal of the school where I was working encouraged me and gave permission. I then asked the board of my church, New Beginnings Community Church, if they would fund the program. They agreed to.” Melodie said.

Her idea was to send needy children home from school on Friday with a backpack containing food for six meals. Participants were made by recommendation from teacher to counselor when signs of a lack of food were observed.

Early on, the response was overwhelming. “I remember a child who was crying because she had to leave school early on Friday for a doctor’s appointment. She was worried she wouldn’t get her backpack,” Melodie explains. “We also received a letter from a parent telling us to stop sending food because both had gotten jobs. They told us that they were so thankful because the food carried us through during a  time.”

She was encouraged, knew the need was more significant than expected, and wanted to expand. With the help of the United Way Community Fund, Backpacks of Love now serves children throughout Bryan County and throughout the calendar year. Of course, there were logistical challenges, as Bryan County is geographically unique in that Ft. McAllister completely separates the north and south end. Melodie says that with the support of volunteers, the church, Pembroke Senior Citizens Center, and United Way, they found a way to make it work to meet the needs of many children.

“United Way set aside a portion of their budget for Backpacks of Love. This year they’ve set aside $10,000,” Melodie explains.

All groups involved, working together seamlessly for a crucial cause, have proved inspiring to Melodie. She purchases food for the Backpacks from Second Harvest with support from United Way Community Fund. For products Second Harvest cannot provide, New Beginnings Community Church covers the expenses. The church also staffs Backpacks with eager volunteers who organize the food deliveries and break everything down into the packages for each school.

“The people who give their time are amazing. They pack the bags to where it gets home in a good manner; not even the fruit bar gets smashed,” Melodie says. “I see them making sure the backpacks are packed with love and care.”

Melodie also encourages her fellow employees to give, and her school holds fundraisers for United Way. The people working at the schools interact with needy children daily. They experience firsthand how children benefit directly from community leaders and organizations partnering with United Way Community Fund to make a real and meaningful difference. Stories like Backpacks of Love, one person’s modest contribution that grew into a county-wide success story, exemplifies moving Forward United.

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