Barbecue fundraiser helping fill backpacks, bellies of Llano students

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

LLANO — When the Llano High School student council began looking for a community project, members wanted something they knew would make a difference.

Only, they never realized how big a difference packing food in backpacks and handing them out to other students would make on themselves, the recipients and the community.

“It’s been incredible,” said Llano High School student council president Bailey Johnson. “We’ve heard from the counselors and teachers that the kids who get these backpacks, well, it’s just made a big impact. These are kids who might not get much to eat on the weekends if not for the backpacks.”

The student council started the Jackets Backpack Buddies program about a year-and-a-half ago after members heard about the project from another school’s student council. The idea is simple: Purchase food items, stuff them in backpacks and dispense them to students who face hunger or lack of food at home.

“About 60 percent of the students in this district are in the free or reduced-lunch program,” Johnson said. “We saw such a need for people to have food. And this seemed like a way to help.”

The student council is hosting a Jackets Backpack Buddies Back-to-School Barbecue on Aug. 10 at Schorlemmer Hall, located behind St. James Lutheran Church at 1401 Ford St. The benefit, which features full barbecue plates, all the trimmings and desserts, is 6-8:30 p.m. The student council asks for an $8.50 donation per plate.

The proceeds will go to help the program.

“Last year, the student council fed more than 200 kids in the district,” said Lisa Petty, the Llano High School student council advisor. “We serve the 10 percent that are at the most risk. But it’s become a $20,000-a-year project.”

Donations keep the program thriving. The barbecue Aug. 10 is the first time the student council has tried such a benefit, but Johnson hopes it will not only raise money but also awareness of the issue of hunger in the community and the schools.

Petty said many of the Llano Independent School District students who face hunger issues at home often only get two hot meals a day at their respective campuses. When the students go home, they face what is sometimes described as “food insecurity.”

According to Feeding America, this occurs when a child or person doesn’t know when or where he or she will get his or her next meal.

Programs such as the Jackets Backpack Buddies help alleviate some of that concern by providing nutritional, easy-to-fix meals for the weekend.

The student council is committed to providing the backpacks each weekend for 32 weeks during the school year.

The students or volunteers transport the backpacks to the various campuses, where counselors or teachers hand them out to the children in the program.

“It’s done anonymously so the other students don’t know,” Johnson said.

The cost breaks down to about $120 per student a school year. When Petty first crunched the numbers, she was astonished by the total amount the council would need. At first, this gave her pause, but when she took the amount to the students, they didn’t balk.

“Our kids just said, ‘Yes, we can,’” Petty said. “And the community has really jumped in to help out.”

In April, the Texas Association of Student Councils selected the Jackets Backpack Buddies program as one of its Top Ten Projects.

“We do this because we just want to help the kids in our district,” Johnson said. “Even though it’s anonymous, you can tell it’s making a difference because the kids keep coming back.”

daniel@thepicayune.com