VIDEO: 'For I was hungry' - East Texas Food Bank Backpack Program helps ease parents' load

Published on Thursday, 19 December 2013 22:12 - Written by By Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

ELKHART — Ranada Balletta’s home was filled with smiling faces and excitement earlier this week as children delved into backpacks from the East Texas Food Bank.

One by one, the children picked out various food items, seemingly eager to see what was inside. Two of Ms. Balletta’s children – Joel Wood, 7, and Mykah Wood, 6 – participate in the food bank’s BackPack Program, which provides them with nourishing items.

They typically receive the backpacks on Thursdays at school and then take them home to share with their cousins and brother. Ms. Balletta said the backpacks contain items such as pretzels, milk, cereal, juices, peanut butter and crackers – enough to sustain a child during the weekend.

She said the food she buys has to last a month, and she doesn’t purchase many snacks. Therefore, she is grateful for the BackPack Program.

Ms. Balletta first became involved with the program about two and a half or three years ago. She said a local teacher talked to her about it, and she learned that the program provides snacks and goodies for children to ensure that they don’t go hungry. At that point, she decided to get on board. She moved to Colorado for a year, but returned to Elkhart in June.

“At the end of the month, when it’s really really tight and I’ve got two things of chicken and they have to be for dinner...this will tide them over during the day,” she said.

The 32-year-old mother, who works as a caretaker, said the program means a lot and takes away stress because she doesn’t have to choose between groceries and other necessities for her children.

“It’s a wonderful program,” Ms. Balletta said. “The people are really nice. It’s not a hand out; it’s a hand up.”

She said it also means that her children don’t have to worry about food.

When she was a child, she said her mother was too proud to get on food stamps, and she recalls sitting by the refrigerator with her brother and crying because she was hungry.

“I don’t want that to ever happen to my kids…,” she said. “I know that on Thursdays the backpack is coming and that they’re going to have snacks … for the weekend.”

“Just little meals that I know will keep them tied over until I’ve got dinner ready,” she added.

Mykah and Joel said they look forward to receiving the food.

When asked what she’d say to principals, teachers and counselors who set everything up, her response was, “Thank you.”

She said they are welcome to come by and see how well the program has worked for her family.

“The worst thing as a parent is to come home and realize ‘Hey, I don’t have enough. What am I going to do?’” Ms. Balletta said.

As for those who donate to the program, she said, “Thank you for your time and donating.”

“Children do enjoy it. I probably couldn’t say ‘Thank you’ enough,” Ms. Balletta said.

And for those thinking about getting involved with the BackPack Program, she noted that the other children at school don’t see who is receiving the backpacks, and that “It’s not a crime to need a little extra help.” 

According to the food bank, more than 4,500 children participate in the BackPack program, which costs $162 per child per year.