OKEECHOBEE — According to Feeding America, Okeechobee ranks 35th out of Florida’s 67 counties for food insecurities. We actually have a gap of $2,586,000 for folks in Okeechobee to move from food insecurity to food security. An astounding figure for a county of our size, but it represents the 5,480 people who frequently worry about or go without food.
Food insecurity is “of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.”
Did you know that over 150 children in the Okeechobee County School District are served by other students from the National Honor Society right here at Okeechobee High School? This student-led initiative is no small feat. Imagine having your high school coursework load, extracurricular activities, etc., yet every week you stop to take care of children who otherwise would have gone home for the weekend hungry. These are the ones we are aware of, but based on data there is more to the story of children going without in our community.
Local OHS student Xandrea Cea contributed some thoughts on the importance of this project: “National Honor Society (NHS) has played a major part of my high school career by showing me that there are great differences in our community. I initially started my contribution to this program with just helping pack the thousand bags of food for each school and each kid. My perspective changed when I was able to hand deliver the bags to the kids themselves. It enabled a connection for both the people I was with at the time, me, and the kids themselves. This backpack program is both the service that we do as members of NHS for the community, but also a lesson that enables us to connect with the community and children in need.”
According to Ms. Cea, “This whole program is organized by one teacher, Wendy Reister. The work for the community is done by an abundant amount of high school students (not just NHS members) who have the willingness to help their community. In order to run this backpack program, financially, we need around $39,500 to feed the 158 kids that are spread out around the county schools. This translates to $250 per kid for the whole year.
“However, since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, we started the year with $3,990 along with the money raised in our car-wash fundraiser, $1,728, which totals $5,718. That amount is only enough for one month. What about the upcoming months?
“In order for us to make sure that we have enough money for the food, NHS has had fundraisers that raise money which is spent solely on food for the kids. We rely on donated bags that we use to put the food in,” Ms. Cea continued.
There are sponsors in the community who contribute or adopt a child for the year. The club has been very fortunate to receive grant funding through State Farm in the past, and just this week received word they would receive a $3,000 grant from Rotary.
The students need more sponsors and more money, however, to operate this program.
If you have ideas for a fundraiser, we would love to partner with you. If you would like to sponsor a child, a check can be made out to Okeechobee High School, with “Back Pack Program” in the memo. The check can be sent to the attention of Wendy Reister at Okeechobee High School, 2800 U.S. 441 N., Okeechobee, FL 34972.
The End the Hunger “Backpack” Project will host a spaghetti dinner, cooked by the Methodist men. The dinner will be this Saturday, Sept. 21, from 4 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person. Tickets are available from Okeechobee High School. Ask for Wendy Reister. Tickets are also available at the Okeechobee School District Office from Leah Suarez. We will have some available at the door.