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Feeding America’s Future

Tabitha Furyk (left), Adam Podlesh (right) and his fiance Miranda Walton (front right).
Adam Wallace- Special to Together, Anything's Possible

February 17, 2011

By Adam Wallace, Special to Together, Anything's Possible

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—What brought over 600 cheering kindergartners through fifth-graders to their collective feet on a Thursday morning?

If you guessed Jacksonville Jaguars pro football member Adam Podlesh’s presence at the Seabreeze Elementary School’s gymnasium for a pep rally, score your report card with an A.

If you guessed their excitement extended to the school’s partnership kickoff with “Blessings in a Backpack,” a program that delivers backpacks every Friday to children on the federal free- and reduced-price meal program, give yourself an A-plus.

What makes these backpacks so inviting and desirable? Mix children with food, and the typical result is love at first bite. These backpacks, filled with kid-friendly and ready-to-eat healthy food, such as cereal, peanut butter and juice boxes and packed with care by volunteers from the Bennie Furlong Senior Center, represent much more—close-at-hand weekend meals packed with nutrition.

“This program makes sure kids have a full tummy on the weekend so they can come back to school on Monday ready to rock and roll again,” said Tabitha Furyk, wife of PGA TOUR golfer Jim Furyk and member of the PGA TOUR Wives Association. “Blessings in a Backpack is something I think is really cool. It’s exciting to see so many bright and smiling faces.”

Seabreeze Elementary Principal Lashawn Streeter points out that students who participate in this nationwide program have shown a marked improvement in test scores, reading skills, positive behavior, health and increased attendance.

“We are so thankful to have the Blessings in a Backpack program,” said Streeter. “Students who are well-nourished are able to focus more on learning while at school. This program is a blessing to our students in need.”

“You can’t give back to a better source than the future of your community,” said Podlesh, the Jaguars’ punter since 2007. “You get the biggest impact by doing something for these kids because it means so much to them, and it will make him or her a better person in the community.”

Stan Curtis founded the program in 2005 in Louisville, KY., and says the bottom line to feed a child for an entire 38-week school year is $80.

“When you feed a child, he or she does better, plain and simple,” said Curtis. “It gives me chills to know that our program has an immediate impact in the community. I have people come up to me and say it’s fun to help feed these children by stuffing food in a backpack. The words fun and feeding children aren’t words you typically put in the same sentence, but when you do, it makes a lot of sense.”

Seabreeze Elementary is one of three schools in Duval County and one of 20 in Florida participating in the program. Nationwide over 230 schools across 27 states are participating, as well as schools in Canada and the District of Columbia.

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