Local feeding program bringing hope to Birmingham with United Way Community Crisis Fund grant

During a time when many families are struggling financially and not able to afford food, Smithfield Backpack Buddies is doing everything than can to prevent hunger in Birmingham. Before COVID-19, Backpack Buddies went into local schools in the area where each school receives 20 bags per week for students in need identified by the school counselors. A few of the schools the program is in include Tuggle Elementary. Wilkerson Middle, and Parker High. To keep the distributions confidential, counselors put the food in students backpacks without others knowing.

The program is led by Dr. Belita Webb and St. Paul A.M.E. Pastor Reverend Brian Blackwell. Over the past four years, they have accumulated 22 volunteers who serve at different times, including AT&T Pioneers, members of St. Paul, and residents of the Smithfield community.

Now that school is out, food distributions are held once to twice a month at the church. If there is food left, they spend the following Saturday giving away remaining items.

Food provided in the kids’ bags includes cereal, oatmeal, apple sauce, cookies, ramen noodles, and fresh produce provided by local partner Joe Alessi. Program coordinators try to provide items in the bags for children that require little to no preparation.

After receiving a grant from the United Way Community Crisis Fund, Backpack Buddies has been able to give away adult bags as well. Those bags include chicken, fish, pork, cheese, nuts, macaroni and cheese, rice, and more. Each adult bag has enough food for 2-3 full meals.

Since COVID-19, Backpack Buddies distributions see, on average, 200 children and 90 families each month through its drive-through service. The program is also not limited to residents of Smithfield; it is open to anyone in need with children under 18. 

When speaking with Dr. Belita Webb about the program, she beamed with pride and exuded true passion. Webb said, “As a retired educator, I know what it’s like to know kids who don’t have food to eat.” As she continued to talk about all Backpack Buddies is doing, she said, “The program isn’t mine, but it’s in my heart.”

Smithfield Backpack Buddies is just one of dozens of community organizations able to maximize their impact in the community during the coronavirus pandemic due to grants from United Way of Central Alabama’s Community Crisis Fund. For additional information on how to apply for funds, visit www.uwca.org/nonprofit-resources. To donate, visit www.uwca.org/COVID19/