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Backpack program gets boost

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Southwest R-5 School District was one of the beneficiaries of grant funds awarded by Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO) last week.

Southwest's backpack program received a $13,000 Cooper Regional Grant from the CFO in partnership with Commerce Trust. Tim Steeley, the R-5 District's special education teacher who coordinates the backpack program, travelled to Springfield to formally accept the grant money on behalf of the district. Southwest Superintendent Bob Walker also attended the ceremony.

The grant money will be used to support Southwest's growing backpack program, which provides elementary-age students with a backpack full of nutritious food for the weekend. Since Steeley began the program in 2009, the number of students served has jumped by 41 percent from 73 students to 102.

"I just can't tell you the appreciation these kids have for what we provide for them," said Steeley. "When each of us does our little part, we can do great things for those in need. It makes a tremendous difference in the lives of all these children."

Southwest's backpack program is supported by donations from community organizations, private individuals and local churches. According to Steeley, the organization has been struggling to meet the needs of its growing list of students due to the economic downtown.

The needs in the R-5 District remain strong. According to the 2009 Kids Count report, 62.6 percent of Southwest students are eligible for free and reduced lunches and 25.7 percent live in poverty.

"I've heard kids express excitement for the days when food stamps arrive, because that means they'll get a good dinner that evening," said Steeley.

Food that is sent home with the children each weekend is ordered through the district's school lunch distributor at a cost of approximately $1.33 per meal, which translates into $26,000 a year to operate the program.

Southwest was one of 12 organizations across southern Missouri that received grants through the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Regional Grantmaking Program aimed at fighting rural poverty. The Coover program awarded a total of $105,000 in grants for 2011, which were presented at Commerce Trust in Springfield on Feb. 15.

The most recent round of grants focused on programs that provide basic needs for kids, like food, medical and dental care.

"We had many strong requests, but the review panel felt that our highest priority should be working to defeat chronic problems that affect kids across our region," said Jill Reynolds, vice president at Commerce Trust and secretary of the CFO Board of Directors.

"Kids can't succeed at learning or at life if they are hungry or need medical or dental care," added Reynolds. "All of these recipients honor the work Mrs. Coover wanted to support through her legacy gift."

For more information about Community Foundation of the Ozarks, visit www.cfozarks.org. Anyone who would like to assist with or donate to the Southwest backpack program can contact Stelley at tsteeley@swr5.k12.mo.us.



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