HAMLET — Kim Lindsey came home from the beach Thursday to find her mailbox stuffed with $2,000 worth of Aldi gift cards — but no quarters for a cart.
But no matter how unusual the method of delivery of Aldi’s Smart Kids grant might be, “we were just thrilled,” she said.
“We’re going to use all 2,000 for food for our BackPack Pals program. (And) at their prices, that’s a lot of food.”
Lindsey can be forgiven a bit if she sounds like an Aldi public-relations agent.
The just-received grant money will provide nearly 600 schoolchildren who take the Pals’ backpacks home from school each Friday many meals of packaged pasta (with hidden veggies), juice, and canned meat or tuna.
Counselors in each of Richmond County’s 13 public schools provide the program with the number of children who could use assistance, and distribute the backpacks each week after veterans’ programs drop them in rotation.
That way, BackPack Pals cannot keep any demographic data on the children. Program volunteers know only the number of meals they pack — which sometimes also go to younger children in families in crisis, Lindsey said.
Children generally are called to the school office to pick up their packs, which are assigned numbers so each child receives an individualized pack. The children return the packs after the weekend, to be filled again the next week.
If the children forget to return the backpacks, they still receive food because “we’re their lifeline,” Lindsey said; but children seldom forget to return the packs.
“We’re probably supplying only a third of the children who need to be served,” she said, but the organization does what it can.
Wendy Jordan, director of student services for Richmond County Schools, has watched the program grow to encompass all public schools in the county.
“I remember being principal at Rohanen Primary School many years ago, and our school was actually one of the first schools to receive the benefit,” she said. Then, only elementary children received backpacks.
“This program benefits not only the students who live in food-insecure homes,” she said, “but it also provides students seeking volunteer opportunities a chance to give back to their peers and their community by sorting food and preparing the bags.”
Aldi Vice President Krysta Cearley said the grant was part of the chain’s “support (of) youth programs focusing on education, physical activity, nutrition, social skills and the arts.”
“We’re dedicated to being a good neighbor and helping to build strong communities,” she said, and “we’re proud to support the BackPack Pals for Richmond County program.”
For 10 years, the program has built its packs in a warehouse provided free by the McLaurin Vocational Center. On Thursday, Lindsey said she did not know whether the warehouse would continue to be available.
“We know as much as anybody else,” she said — just that the county has leased some of the center’s space to a furniture manufacturer.
BackPack Pals founder Pastor Steve Crews of the Church of God of Prophecy in Hamlet has said the program hoped to keep the warehouse and would discuss doing so with the county.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]