"We have been able to expand the number of backpacks we offer each week," said Tim Jordan, elementary school principal. "We know even more students are in need, but we have to help those in most need and expand from there.
"The students are doing a great job," continued Jordan. "It has been amazing how they took this on last year and this year. Tyler Dallis, backpack program coordinator, has really stepped up and taken on all of the organization of the program. He's doing a great job."
The Exeter High School FBLA began operating the backpack program last year. Students work under the supervision of FBLA advisor Jeanetta McGamen and Rachel Bielefeld, elementary school counselor. The program was founded by Jennifer Trent's Girl Scout troop two years ago.
The Exeter School District receives food and monetary donations from Corinth Baptist Church, the Assembly of God Church in Exeter and Ridgley Baptist Church. Donations also come from Fasco, which has plans to expand its program in order to provide all local backpack programs with larger monetary donations each year.
Exeter FBLA members take turns working in the backpack program. Dallis is responsible for instructing and overseeing the members working in the program and organizing the backpack program supplies, which are housed in the area that formerly held Exeter's Tiger Store.
Each Friday, Dallis and his crew of workers pack 20 backpacks that students take home over the weekend. Each backpack includes two plastic storage bags that contain breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods for Saturday and Sunday.
Last year, the district developed a menu for the backpack program based on nutrition. Students receive milk and cereal or a fruit bar and applesauce for breakfast. A tuna or chicken kit, Vienna sausages and crackers or a microwavable meal along with fruit and water are provided for lunch. Dinner consists of a microwavable meal, a granola bar and juice. Pudding, Jell-O or crackers are included as a snack.
After the backpacks are packed with food, students take the bags to the school's foyer area where students pick them up before leaving for the weekend. Students participating in the program are assigned a number and the backpacks are marked with corresponding numbers.
"Last year, as a member, I helped with the program once a month," said Dallis. "Our coordinator was good, but I noticed some things I could improve. Now, we use our time very efficiently."
The group of students is given around 30 minutes to pack the 20 bags, but usually complete the process is around half the time alloted, said Bielefeld.
"Tyler is an excellent leader," said Bielefeld. "He has made the whole process so efficient. The students are often in and out before I even know its time to pack the backpacks."
Dallis said that he volunteered to serve as coordinator for the leadership experience, but has also enjoyed having the opportunity to serve as a role model.
"I get to help my community and help my fellow school mates," said Dallis. "It's more than FBLA recognition. I get to educate our members on what it means to be a volunteer and how it feels to help someone else.
"By making sure these students receive nutritious meals all weekend, we are helping them overall," said Dallis. "Education is tied to eating healthy."
Parents give permission for their children to participate in the Exeter Backpack Program.
The Exeter School District accepts donations for the program. For more information on donating, call Jordan at 835-2922, extension one.