Hunger needs met by Backpack Buddies through United Way assistance

This year's campaign for the Nolan County United Way (NCUW) is "Give Where You Live," so that the local organization can continue their commitment to local service. The 2012 goal has been set at $85,000, in which all funds raised will stay in the county to help nine local agencies.Making up the agencies are the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, SNAP (Senior Nutrition Activities Program), Cancer Services Network, Gateway Family Services, Sweetwater BackPack Buddies, the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center (WTCAC), the Big Country Medical Reserve Corps, and the Women's Resource Center.Since 2009, the Sweetwater Backpack Buddies have been meeting the health and hunger needs of area students. The program was started by Leah Andrews and her daughter, who noticed signs of hunger in students following the weekend off from school. Most of the kids noticed would benefit from the free meal plan during the school week, but had limited or no food options when the weekend began.The students who receive the weekly assistance from Backpack Buddies are within Sweetwater ISD (Independent School District) and are nominated by school personnel based on their hunger needs. Each Friday during the school year, a student will be given a bag of well-balanced, non-perishable food items.Over the duration of the program, student have been able to receive other items. On some occasions, students will be given toiletry items such as shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste.During one Christmas, community donors provided around sixty students with items like hoodies from the Sweetwater ISD athletic department, socks, undergarments and other articles of clothing. And this past summer, the program was able to feed kids in need as Andrews was able to provide sandwiches to hungry children at the city pool. Over the last year, almost seventy students within the local school district were assisted by the Sweetwater Backpack Buddies on a weekly basis. As the program grows, the cause is always being promoted within the community for volunteers to offer their services, finances, food or a combination of all three.The program is possible through the efforts of the Food Bank of Abilene, community volunteers to pick up the food and fill up the bags, and donations--some of which come from the Nolan County United Way.The NCUW runs solely on pledges and is led by Wendy Smartt, the group's Executive Director. She leads a board of community volunteers who serve with the hope of impacting the community in a caring manner.To donate to the Nolan County United Way, donors can give a one-time donation through a payroll deduction or a quarterly basis. The donations allow the NCUW to impact thousands within the county through nine agencies assisted.And in order to receive assistance from the Nolan County United Way, the agencies must take part in an annual interview process and meet several guidelines. Over the course of a year, the agencies will receive support on three occasions.This article is part of a series called "Nolan County United Way: Agency Spotlight". Through a partnership with the NCUW, the Sweetwater Reporter hopes to inform readers about all nine agencies. To learn more about the Nolan County United Way or for opportunities to volunteer, contact Smartt at or by voice mail at 325-235-9522.