By CATHY MOUNCE
Register Staff Writer
Cooke County’s Volunteers in Service to Others (VISTO) is beginning the tenth year of “Backpack Buddy” — a program designed to help provide food for hungry Cooke County children.
With the 2000 census showing that one in three Gainesville children were living in poverty, VISTO officials wanted to find a way to help needy students obtain food on weekends.
VISTO staff implemented the “Backpack Buddy” program after a similar program was featured on CNN.
The program goal is to provide two days’ worth of nutritional snacks to children who have been identified by school officials for being at risk of hunger.
In its first year, the VISTO backpack program in partnership with Edison Elementary School and St. Mary’s Catholic School distributed food to 85 children in Cooke County.
“We are still taking applications for this year so I don’t have a total count yet on children enrolled for this year,” said VISTO executive director Michelle Baldwin.
“The greatest need we have is Backpack Buddy food,” Baldwin continued.
Suggested food includes: Belvita breakfast cookies, cheese crackers, single one ounce servings of raisins, pudding cups, fruit cups, Star-Kist chunk tuna, Chef Boyardee lunch cups, vienna sausage, Hamburger Helper and Jif to Go. A complete list is on the VISTO website at http://www.vistohelps.org.
The cost of the program has been determined to be around $5 per child per weekend or $135 per school year per child. The program is paid for by local donations, fundraisers and grants.
Baldwin also noted a new pilot summer program is set to begin in June 2014. She said VISTO is looking for additional program locations and has already received commitments from Valley View and Era.
For more information contact Michelle Baldwin at Cooke County VISTO at 668-6403.