By now, Molly Morgan and Ted Smith are used to having Aldi's shoppers gawk as they load up their shopping carts with . . . 14 cases of beef ravioli. They just doing their thing as volunteers for the Friday Backpack Program.

By now, Molly Morgan and Ted Smith are used to having Aldi’s shoppers gawk as they load up their shopping carts with . . . 14 cases of beef ravioli. That’s a lot of needed nutrition for growing boys and girls in Rolla. Through no fault of their own, they can’t always get enough food to eat over the weekend, when school voucher programs end for the week.
In the United States 48.8 million people live in households that do not get enough nutritious food on a regular basis, and this is including over 13 million children and teens according to Nokidhungry.org. Here in Rolla one volunteer program is working to change those statistics one bag at a time.

The Friday Backpack Program has been in Rolla now for a decade. The program offers a grocery bag of food items to children in the local school system who are in need of the assistance. This includes protein, grains and other food items that can help them get through the weekend where school lunches are not provided. Many local schools and daycares benefit from the program, including Wyman Elementary, Mark Twain Elementary, Truman Elementary, Rolla Middle School, Rolla Junior High and Rolla High School.

The program is run by a group of volunteers called “Hope Alliance.” This group, with over 50 volunteers, is run, marketed and coordinated by Rolla’s own Faith Ann Barnes. Barnes is a real estate agent by trade and is now running for local office, but finds her time most often spent in our local Aldi’s, shopping for this program that that has found a need.

“I know the way to get to the heart of the community is through volunteering,” Barnes said. “ I was reading an online article from a nurse's perspective, and it talked about a similar program to the Friday Backpack Program that she started in her school. It was just heart breaking. My heart was tugged and I didn’t know what it meant or what to do.”

The program is not funded by any government assistance, Barnes explained. By taking government funding it could restrict their ability to help certain families, and she doesn’t want to miss that chance to help those in need. “It’s not always children in destitute poverty,” Barnes said. “A lot of our children are the working poor families. The families that are working two jobs, maybe more, and are making too much for government assistance but still struggle to make ends meet.”

Volunteers meets two times a week on Wednesday and Thursday to shop at Aldi’s for the food items, and later, to bag the groceries in preparation for the Friday distribution. The program spends upwards of $1,000 a week, with the funding being around 75% of donations from local businesses and organizations, Barnes explained. “It’s a grassroots effort. It was started here. I wanted it to be a community thing and it has [been]. The community has come together and supported this tremendously.” Barnes said.

Volunteers come from all around the community in order to help this program flourish. One local man, Dr. Ted Smith, first learned of the program through the local Rotary Club. “I think of this community as rather affluent, but there’s 400 kids a week (using the program),” said Smith. The program also serves students over the summer, and to date has produced over 115,000 bags for local children.

 Barnes has continued this passion for a decade now, so what is her inspiration to keep going? “The inspiration is the hugs I get at Aldi’s,” she said. “The people (who ask) ‘Oh, are you feeding a day care?’ and you have to say ‘no’ and (explain). The people who hand me cash, or the moms and the foster parents who say ‘We were having a really rough time, and your program really helped us get through.’ That’s what keeps me going.

 “I want people to volunteer,” Barnes said. “They get a better perspective on the need in the community, they grow to be more empathetic and it really changes your heart when you volunteer.” To get more information on the Hope Alliance, or for information about you can help visit the Hope Alliance of Missouri Facebook page or contact Faith Ann Barnes at (573)-368-8001.