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Rock Hill schools work to feed thousands of kids every weekend who would otherwise go hungry

Rock Hill Schools has 11,386 students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. That means their families’ income is below or near the federal poverty level.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The need for free or reduced lunches in schools continues to be a significant issue for districts.

In Rock Hill Schools alone officials say 11,386 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. That means their families’ income is below or near the federal poverty line.

The district says that’s 67% of its student population. 

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"Students within Rock Hill Schools experience a 68-hour gap between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning where they don't have any access to food," Megan Paat, Rock Hill Schools Education Foundation Executive Director said. 

Dozens of volunteers with Rock Hill Schools and the Rock Hill Schools Education Foundation help feed these students each weekend. 

Paat says at least 750 students are in the Back the Pack program this year, but that is expected to rise. 

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Bags are about $6 dollars each this year, which means it takes $230 a school year to feed one student per weekend. Inflation has impacted the cost this year. 

“Our bag prices have gone up $2 per bag," Paat said. 

The bags have a far reach in the community and for one volunteer it’s why she keeps coming back. 

"I have had a young man I have been tutoring since first grade," Mary Scheper, Back the Pack Volunteer said. "And last year, he was in fourth grade."

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Scheper is a volunteer at a local church where she tutors children. 

"He always showed up to Star hungry, like most of the kids, he was a growing boy. But one day, he opened his backpack, and there was one of our bags." 

Research shows that hungry students are more likely to score lower on standardized tests, repeat a grade, be suspended from school, and get sick more often. 

“It helps them know that they're not alone, that there's somebody here to partner with them, and that we believe in them, and we'll do everything we can to help them be the best versions of themselves," Paat said. 

The program also includes help from Rock Hill students. 

"I've always wanted to be able to help kids that don't have what I have, Jaycee Gaskins, Rock Hill Schools Student said. "And I just feel like this program has helped me accomplish that in so many ways." 

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Rock Hill students get to help pack the bags and help order supplies for a logistics and distribution course. 

"They're getting workforce development by helping with warehouse science like ordering and sorting, quality control and transportation," Patt said. "They also get OSHA certification and forklift certification.: 

The students are also navigating supply chain issues in real time. 

"We've had to pivot from what we ordered, and we've had delays we had to shift our pack day to day just to accommodate the change in the shipping," Paat said. 

But at the end of the day—students can still find a can of green beans, an orange cup, and even a can of ravioli all getting packed up into a Ziploc and in their bags.  

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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