A local kindergarten teacher said she asked her students which day of the week was the students’ favorite. The kids took turns answering the question. Some said Saturday was their favorite because it isn’t a school day; others liked other days for various reasons.

One little boy told the teacher his favorite day of the week was Friday.

She asked him why.

“Because it’s the day I get my (VISTO) backpack,” he answered.

Beth Denison of VISTO (Volunteers in Service to Others) said she has heard a lot of stories about families and children who have been helped by VISTO services including the organization’s Back Pack Buddy project which provides a backpack full of nutritious foods for local school children on Fridays.

She said many of the stories are touching. Some are almost heartbreaking.

“That story stands out in my mind the most,” she said. “I think it’s a special story that really illustrates the purpose of the program.”

The backpack foods are intended to bridge the gap on weekends when students are not at school and cannot have breakfast and lunch on campus.

Finding enough food during the weekends is difficult for some families.

Sunday, Feb. 3, Cooke County hopes to raise money and increase awareness for the plight of hungry people in this area through an effort known as “Souper Bowl Sunday.”

The Souper Bowl of Caring is a national event which organizers hope will be “an unprecedented time of giving and serving in the country.”

“Local churches and businesses have been participating in this national effort for almost a decade by passing a bowl or a basket on Super Bowl Sunday to donate to Cooke County’s emergency food bank, VISTO,” board member Nancy Darwin said in a press release.

The Souper Bowl Sunday Luncheon is set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3 at First United Methodist Church, 214 S. Denton St. in Gainesville.

VISTO Executive Director Michelle Baldwin said last year’s Souper Bowl event brought in $6,366 for VISTO programs.

In addition to Backpack Buddy, the agency is also a food pantry, providing food and sometimes other forms of assistance to those in need.

Funded by a variety of sources including grants, donations and fundraisers, VISTO is often financially strapped, but Baldwin said she and VISTO volunteers and board members have always found a way to stay afloat.

Last year’s event brought in more donations than organizers anticipated, she said.

“I was surprised and very thrilled. It basically tripled from the year before. Everybody had a lot of fun doing it,” she said.

Baldwin said she believes everyone has a passion in life. She said her thinks her calling life is to help feed the hungry, especially children.

“Food is so important to children,” she said.

Denison agrees. “Being able to have the food we need is something most of us take for granted,” she said. Some people, Denison said, do not have that luxury.

Volunteers plan to serve four different varieties of soup at the luncheon — chicken enchilada, taco soup, vegetable soup and potato soup, Baldwin said.

The agency is also planning to partner with area 4-H clubs to obtain bowls.

“We’re asking the 4’Hers to donate bowls for the event,” Baldwin said. “We’re trying to get 850 bowls — one to represent each child on the backpack program.”

She said last year, the program provided assistance to 350 students.

This year, VISTO planned to increase its outreach efforts to include 500 kids.

“We thought was a large leap of faith,” Baldwin admitted. The agency ended up with 350 more participants plan it had anticipated.

Back Pack Buddy is a major expense even with donations from organizations such as the Cooke County United Way and a sizable grant from the Reece Jones Foundation.

Running the program costs “about $200,000 for an agency that only has one fund raiser per year,” Baldwin pointed out.

“We’ve left it up to God and got some grants and donations. We know that we have enough to finish the school year,” she said.

Souper Bowl participants are asked to provide a monetary donation for the soup and they may keep their bowls.

Darwin said the gesture should help remind people that “there are still empty bowls in Cooke County.”

The money raised during the event will help buy food for the emergency food bank and the Back Pack Buddy program, according to the press release.

“We can buy food for significantly less than the public can. For example, I just bought five chickens for 75 cents each, and I can buy peanut butter for 18 cents a jar,” said Baldwin said.

Baldwin said VISTO hopes people keep coming back for the Souper Bowl.

“It was so much fun last year and such a success we plan to make this an annual signature fundraising project,” said Baldwin.

The Back Pack Buddy program serves an important role in the lives of many Cooke County school children and makes sure that they and their siblings don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year, Darwin said.

“We’re in every school in the county (except for one) and provide supplemental nutrition assistance to over 850 children a week,” she said.

“The cost of the Back Pack Buddy program equals our whole emergency food bank which means we basically doubled the amount of food (and cost) we give out historically. We have always been able to function on the generosity of donations from the good people of Cooke County, but with the demand for the Back Pack Buddy program continuing to grow, we have to look at every avenue, including more fundraisers,” Baldwin said.

VISTO is announcing an additional fundraiser scheduled for March 31 at North Central Texas College gymnasium. The format will be like the hit TV show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” and will feature local celebrity contestants.

“If you would like to be a sponsor or nominate someone to be a contestant, contact VISTO at 668-6403 or e-mail edvisto@sbcglobal.net,” Baldwin said.

“Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend the luncheon or to make donations. We also still need bowls. If you would like to donate unused ceramic bowls for the luncheon, please call 668-6403,” she said.