Troy University’s social work department is collaborating with Backpacks for Kids to help relieve child hunger in Pike County.
The program provides supplemental food and nutrition education to area families with children at Head Start, according to its page of Troy’s website.
According to the office of civic engagement, in 2016, it was estimated that 26.1 percent of residents and 37.7 percent of Pike County children are living below the poverty line. Thus, the Backpacks for Kids program aims to combat this trend by preparing bags filled with foods for weekly distribution at Head Start, which is a government-run Pre-K, and the Boys and Girls Club for three years now.
Senior social work majors currently enrolled in the Social Work with Organizations course are working on this project to apply what they have been learning.
Avery Livingston, coordinator of civic engagement, said that Backpacks for Kids gets donations of nonperishable foods from local businesses, individuals, churches and students, and sometimes grant money, to purchase what it needs.
With the help of volunteers, Livingston said, the organization packs about 50 bags of foods per week for delivery.
“They can take the pack home and eat the main course as dinner,” said Livingston.
A pack consists of one protein-rich main course, two wholesome breakfast items, two snacks and two fruit items. Livingston said packs also include snacks for the students.
Livingston said the goal of this program is to provide supplemental foods for younger children who are identified, based on being in the Head Start program, as typically being the children of those who are below the poverty line for income.
The office of civic engagement has partnered with the Social Work with Organizations course to address the issue with a food drive. The course focuses on allowing students to partner with other organizations for change in the community.
Livingston said that the program benefits from the class’s requirements. The class needs some service-based project to attach to studies.
According to Livingston, the need for food in the Head Start program is what sparked the idea for a food drive.
“It’s really good that social work is able to support the program, and it’s co-curricular with what they’re learning in class,” Livingston said.
According to Dawn Ellis-Murray, the instructor of Social Work with Organizations and the supervisor of this project, the class is divided into four groups: assessment, logistics, marketing and outreach. Each group is in charge of different tasks.
“Assessment group needs to identify who the vulnerable populations were with the people at Campus Kitchen,” Ellis-Murray said. “The group is designed to establish a relationship with community and provide interventions to help resolve any issues.”
Ellis-Murray said logistics group’s main task is to coordinate what’s happening around campus or the community.
“They make sure transportation is arranged to pick things up and that there are sufficient number of boxes to collect the items,” Ellis-Murray said.
Students in the marketing group design flyers and use social media platforms to make people aware of the ongoing issues, and how those people can help resolve these problems.
“The last group, outreach, will target collaborative partners or other interested like-minded individuals that can help us to accomplish our goals and objectives,” Ellis-Murray said.
Ellis-Murray said through collaborative partnerships and groups, students will acquire the ability to work together to accomplish a goal.
“In social work, one of the most important thing we want to talk about and instruct them on is the ability to work as a system to make an impact,” she said.
Rachel Jones, a senior social work major from Opelika and member of the outreach team, said the goal of this project is to pave ways for students to give back.
“We also want to bridge the gap between Troy University and the community so that we can have a continuous flow of support to help those who are in need,” Jones said.
Jones said that her outreach team specifically wants to create longevity with people giving donations so that even after they finish this project, the donors will still be in support of the program.
According to Jones, this project gets seniors ready for the real world by preparing them to work with different organizations: the ones in need and the ones that can fulfill the needs.
She said this project is constructive to her studying and her career path.
“If we cannot perform well in this class and the project, we can’t proceed to internships or future jobs because this project is the assessment of our understanding and ability to apply the basics of what’s being taught in class,” Jones said.
Sydney Schaus, a senior social work major from Robertsdale and a member of logistics group, said the class pushes her to get involved and see the needs of children in Troy.
“As social workers, we use a lot of resources, and Backpacks for Kids is awesome for underprivileged kids in the community,” Schaus said. “I’ve enjoyed how it has opened my eyes to the need here in Troy.”
According to Schaus, her team is in charge of making sure all the food ends up at the civic engagement office and getting a count of what is donated.
“We have already had donations from a Jordy Searcy concert that was hosted at the student alumni house, and SGA (the Student Government Association) had a huge donation last Friday,” said Schaus.
Schaus said it was overwhelming at first, but once the plans started to happen, everything took shape.
“Everyone continued to do what they were supposed to,” Schaus said. “It has become a quite enjoyable project.
“I think communication was the main difficulty at first since there were like 20 or so of us, but GroupMe has been very helpful to stay up to date on what’s going on.”
Ellis-Murray said her students have been performing tremendously well.
“They take great responsibility in what they have to do and embrace all the needed work for their learning experience,” Ellis-Murray said.
According to Ellis-Murray, the students have been communicating closely with the office of civic engagement in order to carry on the objectives that both sides have outlined.
If any students would like to participate, donations can be dropped off at Room 102 of McCartha Hall.
The department will also be hosting a spirit night at Chick-fil-A on Friday, Oct. 27, from 5 to 7 p.m.