For most students, a backpack is simply a means of carrying books to and from school.
For Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Amherst, a backpack can be something more. Pastor Steve Mayes has a stock of colorful book bags filled with Bibles, food, games, clothes, and school supplies.
Several Baptist churches in South Carolina stuffed and shipped these “backpacks of hope” around the country, with 2,000 landing in the Greater Cleveland area.
Mayes was able to get 86, and he hopes to give away every last one.
This is the first time Good Shepherd has done a holiday backpack program, though similar bags are offered to Amherst students in a weekly food distribution. Thirty backpacks per week go home with kids who use the district’s free-and-reduced lunch program.
The need has nearly tripled, Moyes said. Two years ago, only seven backpacks were being sent home.
Good Shepherd, which runs the Amherst Food Pantry, provides the backpacks via the Amherst Leo Club, the youth arm of the Lions Club. Young members collect the empty backpacks, fill them up with food from the church’s pantry, and take them back to the schools to be delivered on Friday.
Each pack contains two breakfasts, two lunches, and two suppers.
“A kid that has a free lunch may not get a real decent meal throughout the weekend,” Mayes said. “Since free lunch on Friday, his next real decent meal would be that free breakfast on Monday.”
“All the principals know me as ‘The Backpack Preacher,’” he laughed, before getting serious again. “Who would think the city of Amherst has hunger issues?”
Children up to age 14 can be registered to receive a free backpack by calling 440-988-4506 no later than Dec 11. They will be distributed at the Christmas party at 6:30 on Dec. 15 at Good Shepherd Baptist Church, 1100 Cleveland Ave., followed by carols, cookies, and cocoa.
“It’s not my goal for 15 new families to join my church out of this process,” Mayes said. “My goal is to touch lives. That’s all.”
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.