MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly half of all Berkeley County Schools students, about 8,000, are in the free or reduced-price lunch program, one that takes a Christmas vacation along with the students.
“For many children, the wish for the latest video game or the hottest tennis shoes is overshadowed by the need for something good to eat during the long winter break from school,” said Tracie C. Lane, a South Middle School reading teacher and organizer of the annual Holiday Lunch Bag Project.
This is its fourth year. Last year, thanks to cash and food donations, project volunteers sent more than 200 bags of groceries home to 175 children.
“This year, we expect the need to be even greater,” Lane said. “We provide one bag for each child in a house.”
“Thursday evening, we’ll all be packing bags,” she said.
Lane and her volunteers run the project from the Martinsburg unit of the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle on South Queen Street. It serves as the collection point for donations.
Even at this late date, Lane said donations of items such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jelly, soup, canned and fresh fruit and vegetables, and cash to buy perishables are still needed.
One of the group’s biggest challenges is finding meals suitable for different age groups, from toddlers to teens, she said.
“The food we give out has to be nutritious and easy to prepare,” she said.
Her own middle school students do their part.
“They researched the caloric needs of children of different age groups, they sorted groceries, wrote letters seeking donations and went on Facebook to get the word out,” Lane said. “They also ran their own cold-weather clothing drive.”
The Boys & Girls Club runs its own after-school meals program for any child who needs it, an average of 80 per day, but that program also closes for the holiday season.
“It’s on the same schedule as the schools,” Lane said.
The idea about helping hungry children goes back about 10 years, when Lane saw a 10-year-old boy panhandling for food during the Christmas break.
“He was knocking on doors because he had nothing to eat,” she said.
“You don’t have to be rich to support this project,” Lane said. “When you go to the grocery store, instead of buying one can of soup, buy two. If you’re going to feed your child, you can feed somebody else’s, too.
“People want to help, they just don’t know how,” she said. “We still need donations through Thursday. Distribution day is Friday.”
Donors can send an email to Lane at email@example.com or call the Boys & Girls Club at 304-263-2696.