Feeding Frenzy

Posted Monday, Sep. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information For more information about the Weekend Backpack Ministry, call Shai Mitchamore at (817) 229-5413 or Kay Klenzendorf at (817) 253-8531.

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Business is booming for the Weekend Backpack Ministry, the program started by a pair of Mansfield moms who wanted to help.

Kay Klenzendorf and her neighbor Shai Mitchamore began sending home food for local students three years ago, starting with five elementary schools and a couple of intermediate schools. The friends are now supplying nine elementaries, three intermediates and a middle school, up to 130 students per week -- most who are on the free or reduced lunch program and might not get a meal on the weekend otherwise.

And they expect to be sending home a lot more by the end of the school year.

“I can promise by the end of this year, we will be at 195 bags,” Mitchamore said.

Each bag of food contains two entrees, a couple of breakfasts and a pair of snacks, which can cost more than $3 per bag, Klenzendorf said. That adds up to more than $400 per week, more than $1,600 a month or close to $15,000 for the school year.

The women -- and their small group of volunteers -- run the program completely from donations from family, friends, people from their churches and others who have heard about the program.

Sometimes it does get close, they admit.

“We were down to $800 last Christmas and we wanted to send something home for all 16 days,” Mitchamore said. “I started praying. Bobby (Lavender) called and said we had gotten a $1,000 donation within hours of my prayer. By that evening, we had $3,000.”

The program got a big boost last year when Bobby and Jackie Lavender, who own Joe’s Family Restaurant, got involved. After the couple heard about what the two friends were doing, they volunteered their restaurant to store and pack the food. They also donate the bags for the food.

Jackie Lavender has seen the cupboards go bare, and miraculously refill.

“Last Thanksgiving, our pantry was empty,” she said of the Backpack Ministry. “Then a little girl had her birthday and asked for no gifts, just food for the Backpack Ministry. Willie Brown (Elementary) had a food drive for us and our pantry was refilled. Lakeside Church of Christ did a food drive, too.”

Klenzendorf and Mitchamore say they don’t worry, just trust that it will work out.

“I don’t worry, but I pray a lot,” Klenzendorf said. “We’ve never run out of food or money.”

Their own lives were the impetus to start the program, the friends say.

“Our son Zachary had a friend whose dad was dying of cancer,” Mitchamore said. “That’s what sparked the thought that not everyone is as blessed as we are.”

At the same time, Klenzendorf had been thinking of starting a program like the Backpack Ministry that her church, Lake Arlington Baptist, conducts, only in Mansfield.

“God gave me this vision of giving out of the abundance that God gave us,” she said.

The two approached a counselor at Erma Nash Elementary, then wound up working through the school district. The district identifies the schools that could use help, then the administration at each school identifies the students. Parents are contacted and, if they approve, bags of food are sent home with the students.

“It’s a blessing if we get to see the kids,” Mitchamore said.

But she did meet one single mom, who had lost her job, and gotten help. After she got a new position, she sought out Mitchamore, who was delivering the bags to the school.

“We were sending home three bags, plus a bag for her,” she said. “She gave me $20 to pay it forward.”

During the school year, the women gather with their volunteers and quickly fill the bags with granola bars, oatmeal, fruit cups, crackers and ramen noodles. The food has to be easy to prepare, in case the children are very young or at home alone, Lavender explained.

“It’s been my happy place,” Klenzendorf said. “It does make me happy to go to the schools. I think God will continue to provide. As long as there is a need, he will provide.”

Mitchamore says she has been surprised at the results.

“We started it thinking we were going to help them, but there’s nothing better than helping someone else,” she said. “It teaches us how blessed we are.”

Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM

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