JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The number of hungry people in our community are real and their faces are everywhere, next door, even in our neighborhood schools.
"There are some that are hungry, not all," said K.K. Cherney.
Cherney is a teacher at Chets Creek Elementary School, a suburban neighborhood school, but even there hunger has found a place.
"Maybe it is because of the economy," said Cherney, "because of certain situations."
Whatever the reason, when 300 children are in the free lunch or reduced lunch program, there is a sign of a need.
Lauren Skipper, also a teacher at Chets Creek, learned of a national program called Blessings in a Backpack and now Skipper and Cherney are the energy behind the program at Chets Creek.
"This is one way that we can be sure that we can reach our clientele, our babies," said Cherney. "Making sure they're taking home some food on Friday."
Every weekend, they send home 106 kids with a backpack loaded with food for the weekend.
"A lot of people don't realize we have a need for it," said Skipper.
It costs $80 a year per child.
"We saw the need two years ago," Skipper said.
They rely on donations from friends, business partners, parents and local retailers to make sure that the kids who are staring at the ugly face of hunger don't go hungry.
"I've had handwritten notes from kids and handwritten notes from parents saying 'there's a need, can we please be on your list,'" said Skipper. "Our goal is to feed all of them."
Chets Creek has 1,280 students, 300 on reduced or free lunch, and a third of them are taking home a backpack of food every weekend.
"We have donations of a dollar, we have donations of five dollars. Every little bit helps. It costs two dollars a week to feed a child.
Blessings in a Backpack is national program that has seen a direct link between the program and better test scores, improved reading skills, positive behavior and increased attendance.
Second Harvest, which serves 17 counties, knows the reality of hunger. One of its staggering facts is that 117,000 children in its service area are "food insecure," meaning that they don't know where the next meal is coming from.
First Coast News