Sumter High freshman uses pageant platform to feed hungry children

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A local high-schooler is using her platform as a pageant winner to bring awareness about food-insecure elementary school students in South Carolina.

The goal is to decrease the number of food-insecure children in Sumter and throughout the state, said Hannah Young, 2018 Miss Georgetown County Teen, creator of Backpack Buddies.

A freshman at Sumter High School, Young, 14, started Backpack Buddies - a program included in Young's platform, Hannah Helps Hungry Kids (H3K) - to provide nutritious food for food-insecure students at local elementary schools with 90-percent poverty rates.

The program will launch on Friday at R.E. Davis Elementary School - which has a 92-percent poverty rate - located on the east side of Sumter. The program will start in Sumter and will eventually be extended to Georgetown, Young said.

At least 14 students at R.E. Davis Elementary School have been identified for the program, said Beth Young, Hannah's mother and a teacher at R.E. Davis.

As a teacher, you sometimes don't realize how often students go without eating proper meals, she said.

Food options are limited for some families that live near the school, which is about 8 miles east from downtown Sumter, she said. There are no grocery stores nearby, pizza restaurants don't deliver out here, and there is only one restaurant, she said.

In the Backpack Buddies program, each student will be given two breakfast, two lunch, two snack, two fruit or vegetable, and two drink options.

The main thing, Beth said, is to bring individually packaged items that are easy to open. Cans with pop-open tops would be ideal.

Examples include cereal bars, instant grits or oatmeal, pudding cups, Jell-O cups, individually packaged crackers, Pop-Tarts, and canned soups or Beanee Weenies.

To protect the students from being embarrassed, Beth said, the food will be placed in their backpacks during the teacher's planning period while the students are out of the classroom.

A letter will also be sent home to the child's parents explaining the program, she said. Parents can opt out of the program by indicating on the letter and sending it back to the school, she said.

"We would like to see the program go beyond R.E. Davis," Beth said. Administrators from another school have already expressed interest in the program, she said.

This is a phenomenal opportunity for children who don't know what they will eat on the weekends, said R.E. Davis Principal Michelle Curry-McBride.

This program will help children get the nourishment to help them grow, she said.

It costs about $180 to sponsor one child for the school year in the Backpack Buddies program, Hannah said, but any financial donation will be appreciated.

Food and financial donations can be delivered to Crosspoint Baptist Church, 2755 Carter Road, which has partnered with H3K to make the program possible. Checks should be made payable to Crosspoint Baptist Church. Donations can be delivered to R.E. Davis Elementary School, 345 Eastern School Road.

H3K will also be seeking the help of volunteers in the future as the program grows.

Other churches, businesses and individuals can find out more about the program by sending an email to hannahhelpshungrykids@gmail.com.