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Bags of Love helps feed hungry children in Eastern Panhandle

July 17, 2012|By TRISH RUDDER | trishr@herald-mail.com
  • Misty Francis, missions coordinator for the Bags of Love (BOL) program of One Hope Ministries International, is surrounded by bags of food that will be given to needy children in Berkeley County, W.Va.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Children need food to learn. For low-income families, providing food for children can be daunting when the budget is tight, and it is troublesome for their teachers, too, when students show up hungry at school.

Even though students were receiving free school breakfasts and lunches, teachers noticed they were unusually hungry on Monday, said fifth-grade teacher Misty Francis, missions coordinator for the Bags of Love (BOL) program of One Hope Ministries International, a local church group organization.

Ron Larson, director of One Hope Ministries, began Bags of Love two years ago after hearing from Berkeley Heights Elementary School teacher Alanda Hall that children were not getting enough food on weekends, Francis said.

Larson said after speaking with Hall, he talked with other church members and began researching ideas.

They came up with a food bag that included six easy microwavable meals for weekends.

Now, after two years, about 500 children in Berkeley County and about 200 in Jefferson County took home a bag of nonperishable food with them every Friday during the school year, Francis said.

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“What started out with 20 kids in Berkeley Heights Elementary School has now grown to about 700 kids,” Francis said.

But that’s not enough, she said.

This summer, about 320 Berkeley County children will receive a Bags of Love food bag once a week.

Instead of meeting parents somewhere to deliver the food bags, this year BOL partnered with the Kids Explosion program through One Hope Ministries, in which volunteers spend time with children once a week at area apartment complexes. These volunteers will deliver the food bags to the children where they live.

Matt Francis, Misty’s husband, is the assistant pastor of 365 Church, the hub church of One Hope Ministries, and works with the Kids Explosion program. Once a week, volunteers meet with the children in the complex to play games and teach a “character-building message,” he said.

“These kids thrive on the positive attention,” he said.

For five weeks until school begins, the children will receive a bag consisting of microwavable foods like ravioli, ramen noodles, and macaroni and cheese, along with fruit cups and healthy snacks, Francis said.

With 56 volunteers, many of them teachers, Francis said it took about one hour to pack “320 bags filled with love and food,” she said.

All the food is purchased through donations from individuals, churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations, Francis said.

A fundraiser at Orchard View Intermediate School, where Misty Francis teaches, raised $600 by letting children wear a hat in school for $1.

Recently, the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant to BOL, Francis said.

And the Jefferson County BB&T bank branches in Ranson, Shepherdstown and Charles Town, W.Va., donated $3,500 as part of the 2012 Community Lighthouse Project, said Diane Creason, financial center leader at the Charles Town branch.

At Thanksgiving, larger bags of food for a turkey dinner are packed, and as many turkeys as donated are included. The turkeys are delivered at night on the “Gobble Walk,” where about 20 church members volunteer to help.

At Christmas, new coats are purchased by church members and donated to the children, Francis said.

“We want to make a difference,” Francis said.

How to help

Donations for the Bags of Love program may be made to One Hope Ministries, P.O. Box 2751, Martinsburg, WV 25402.

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