The Backpack Program at Lakewood Elementary School started with a big vision from Durham resident Nancy Austin. Founded by members of Duke University Retiree Outreach (DURO), the program regularly sends home groceries every Friday for 20 families who otherwise would be food insecure during the weekend. Specifically, Nancy felt strongly that DURO couldn’t simply send home a backpack with just enough food for the child carrying it.
“As someone who had known hunger, Nancy knew that we couldn’t just feed the child,” DURO member Margaret Hodel explains. “We had to feed the entire family.”
Against many odds, volunteers came together and created an entire food pantry at Lakewood Elementary. They shopped for the groceries, then packed the bags that the children would take home.
In the beginning, the pantry supported eight families with meals. Soon, though, volunteers realized they could feed so many more. With grant funding from The Forest at Duke, DURO increased the giving to 30 families. Now it provides seven meals each and every weekend to over 150 individuals.
“We are constantly struck by the [program’s success],” Judy Berry, program chair, reflects. “We hope to do more.”
98% of Lakewood Elementary students receive free or reduced meals at school. Because of this, Judy knows that the program has room to grow. Notably, she feels empowered by DURO’s partnership with The Forest and support from Lakewood Elementary. “I know we can feed any family that may be in need.”