What began in February 2012 as a mission of First United Methodist Church as evolved over the last seven years into a community-wide program providing thousands of children with food they might not have otherwise gotten. Sharon Burris spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Metropolis June 25 as the guest of Kiwanis President Diana Douglas and gave the organization an update on the program.
Sherry Deming and Dena Hopkins were both involved in the initial stages of Weekend Blessings, according to Burris. Hopkins was youth director and Deming was her assistant. Hopkins took the older kids to Nashville to see the under the bridge ministry and Deming's daughter, Taylor, called her mom while she was in Nashville and told her that the kids in Massac County needed a program for food.
"Both ladies set up meetings with programs in existence and they took the best things from the existing programs and put them in place for this program," says Burris.
It started out small with only 36 to 40 students receiving bags from Feb. 2012 until the end of the year. But there were several who were willing to help each week. "I was just one of those volunteers. Since then, it has taken off and is a pretty well-respected program. Volunteers do not know the names of the children who receive bags and that way we cannot make any judgments. We just know someone saw a child hungry on Monday morning and this program can help make that less painful and dramatic for a hungry child," said Burris.
It is strictly a volunteer program and no one receives any payment and all donations support the purchase of food. A Bible verse goes into each bag and a prayer is said over the bags for blessings and students receive double the quantity of food for fall break, Christmas break, Easter and at the end of the school year.
Burris explains students are identified when they come to school hungry on Monday mornings and eat everything on their tray, eat the food other students do not eat and are slow to go out on the playground. "It is difficult for children to fake hunger. Weekend Blessings participation is based totally on a child coming to school hungry," said Burris.
After students are identified for the program, a one page form goes home to parents and/or guardians asking for permission to send bags home, also asking if the home has a can opener, a microwave and if the child has any known food allergies. It also asks if there are any other brothers and sisters in the home.
What do these food bags contain?
Each week there are 10-12 food items: four entrees -- can of soup, ravioli, Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, Vienna Sausage; two breakfasts -- individual cereal, oatmeal packet, granola or cereal bar; four snacks -- pudding cup, fruit cup, cookies, chips, Rice Krispie Treats, peanut butter crackers and fruit snacks.
How many children served?
According to the information Burris gave, between 163 and 182 children are being served this year. The need has risen over the past four years and reached its highest ever during this current school year (2018-19). The schools served include: Maple Grove Elementary School, Metropolis Elementary School, Massac Junior High and Massac County High School, Franklin Elementary School and Head Start.
According to Burris, roughly 28 Brookport students, are served by Mt. Sterling Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and about eight Unity School students are served by Brookport Church of Christ.
Burris said Jefferson Elementary is always contacted and someday there may be a need. "But at this time, there is no need. Jefferson is a farming community with most everyone having a huge garden and most everyone does freezing and canning of fruits and vegetables," said Burris.
Statistics during the 2018-19 school year:
• An average of 164 children did not go hungry over the weekend -- 39 weekends
• A total of 6234 bags of food were prepared; 16% increase over previous year
• Each bag costs about $5.25-$5.50 to prepare if all food had to be purchased
• Total cost for the year, had all food been purchased was between $33,000-$35,000
How many bags of food are being distributed?
Nov. 14 160 Bags
Dec. 19 163 Bags
Jan. 30 169 Bags
Feb. 27 177 Bags
Mar. 27 182 Bags
How is Weekend Blessings funded?
Burris explained the program is funded through individual contributions. "Another source is through the generosity of area churches," said Burris. Those churches include: First United Methodist, First Christian Church as well as Lutheran Church of the Cross. Still other contributing churches include: Zion United Church of Christ, Joppa Missionary Baptist, Joppa Methodist, Missionary Baptist, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Power's United Methodist, St. Paul Lutheran, First Baptist's Mary & Martha Sunday School Class; and Community Christian.
Food for the backpacks also comes from food drives, which are held by various organizations throughout the year including -- Metropolis City Police Department, First United Methodist Church (soup), Massac Memorial Hospital, Woodmen of the World, Weight Watchers, Metropolis Elks 1428, Banterra Bank, Massac County High School and Metropolis Head Start parent group.
In addition there are regular donors to the Weekend Blessings program: Metropolis Kiwanis Club; Metropolis Rotary Club; Metropolis Elks Lodge 1428; Metropolis Police Department; Legence Bank; The Zone Fitness, Metropolis Big John and Pepsi.
Burris said youth groups often provide help. Once the food is set out on tables the bags can be prepared, "We have youth organizations coming on alternate weeks to help make the bags in an assembly line manner," said Burris. Those groups include: Boy Scout Troop 101; Cub Scout Pack 101; Girl Scout Troop 8689; American Heritage Girls and Trails USA (next year); and Jr. High Beta Club.
And in addition to the youth groups there are regular volunteers, including two Metropolis Kiwanis members who assist other volunteers each week.
How can individuals help?
"Pray for hungry children in Massac County, their families and their circumstances," said Burris. Another way to help is through a monetary donation. Burris said individuals may make checks payable to First United Methodist Church of Metropolis and in the memo line put "Weekend Blessings." And, Burris re-iterated volunteers are always needed.