Backpacks Unite program to aid students

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United Way of Southwest Virginia announced that the Backpacks Unite program will continue, even while students are not in school. In partnership with Food City, each of the families of the 1,085 children in over 30 schools in Southwest Virginia who participate in Backpacks Unite will receive a $30 Food City gift certificate for the family to purchase groceries at their local Food City store. Gift certificates can be used to purchase food only and exclude the option to purchase alcohol, tobacco products or lottery tickets.

Backpacks Unite has expanded since its conception in 2009 as the needs of the region have continued to persist, and continues to be one of the largest volunteer outreach activities in Southwest Virginia, with sponsors providing hundreds of thousands of meals to students each year.

Travis Staton, United Way of Southwest Virginia President and CEO, stated, “Based on recent survey data completed by more than 150 local health and human service organizations and child care agencies, we know that one of the most immediate needs due to the impact of COVID-19 in the region are related to food insecurity, followed closely by childcare. We are working diligently to bring needed resources to these response efforts.”

Backpacks Unite works with more than 20 sponsors to serve 1,085 students (in over 30 schools) across the region who are at risk of going hungry. The program is a collaborative effort among United Way of Southwest Virginia, community organizations, school personnel, and Food City. Typically, hundreds of volunteers across Southwest Virginia pick up food ordered by United Way of Southwest Virginia and delivered by Food City trucks to the store closest to the school with Backpacks Unite students. Volunteers create individually packaged bags for students and deliver them to the school to be distributed to students. To ensure children and families still have food during this critical time, United Way has provided a new solution for Backpacks Unite because of the social distancing issues created by COVID-19. The gift certificate solution is putting resources into the hands of those in need while keeping hundreds of Backpacks Unite volunteers safe during the pandemic.

Students enrolled in Backpacks Unite at the following schools will receive gift certificates from United Way of Southwest Virginia:
Dublin Middle School – Pulaski County
Pulaski Middle School – Pulaski County

Gift certificates will be available to students later this month. Schools will distribute the gift certificates to the parents and guardians of the Backpacks Unite students. These distributions will primarily take place during food pick up or delivery dates, however each distribution of gift certificates will be based entirely upon how the participating schools are operating and serving their families.

“We are so thankful for United Way of Southwest Virginia and Food City for coming up with this innovative solution to accommodate our students with food insecurities,” stated Scott Addison, Norton Elementary and Middle School Principal. “Everyone has been presented with new challenges while trying to distribute food to our students during this time of social distancing.”

Kristy Worley, United Way of Southwest Virginia Manager of Childhood Success – Health Programs, stated, “We are so thankful for the sponsors and volunteers throughout the region that have supported Backpacks Unite this academic school year. We have been working with all of the school systems that have students enrolled in this program during the COVID-19 crisis. We are grateful for your role, and could not do this work without all of you.”