When children arrive home from school on Fridays, their backpacks are often stuffed with books and papers. For children at 16 schools in Charles and St. Mary’s counties, a special bag is also included in what they bring home.
Called “snack saks,” the bags are filled with food items — ingredients to fight hunger — packed with love by volunteers at the Southern Maryland Food Bank.
About 250 Southern Maryland children receive snack saks each week.
George Mattingly, Southern Maryland Food Bank and outreach services program manager, explains that, by partnering with local schools, the food bank ensures that children who do not have access to free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during weekends still have access to meals.
The program for school-age children is one of several essential services the food bank provides for neighbors in need. Located in Waldorf, the Catholic Charities food bank has a food pantry, a food bank that supplies food to about 35 churches in Charles and St. Mary’s counties, Snack Sak program, Senior Sak program, community garden and the Meals & Hope food truck. With the help of dedicated volunteers and staff members, the food bank has worked to reduce food insecurity and hunger in the region for more than three decades.
The Snack Saks program packs and delivers food bags to 16 public schools in St. Mary’s and Charles counties that have large enrollments of children in free or reduced-price meal programs. Qualified students at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, J.P. Ryon, Eva Turner, Arthur Middleton and Indian Head elementary schools in Charles County, and Greenview Knolls, Park Hall, George Washington Carver, Piney Point, Green Holly, Lexington Park, Duke, Dynard, Mechanicsville, Lettie Dent and Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County receive snack saks 31 weeks of the year — each week of the school year.
Snack saks are filled with nutritious, ready-to-eat foods — fruit cups, cereal, granola bars, crackers, oatmeal and other snacks — along with juice. The United Way of Southern Maryland is a significant funder of the program, with additional donors contributing to food costs and other expenses.
After Mattingly places orders for the food items, delivery driver Richard Peeks, a volunteer, retrieves them from a store. Volunteers then pack the items into a sack, and Peeks delivers the unmarked bags to schools. Snack saks are given out in a discreet manner to children identified by the schools.
“The Snack Sak program is helpful to many of our families,” says Andrill Harris, community school coordinator at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary. “After our (school’s) needs assessment, basic needs became one of our main objectives. During the last school year and summer, snack saks provided many of our students with a nutritional snack to help fight hunger.”
With hundreds of snack saks packed and delivered to school-age children each week, another segment of the Southern Maryland community is also being served. “Senior saks” assists seniors living on limited incomes. The food bank has teamed up with retirement and senior-living communities to deliver bags that include items such as apple sauce, breakfast bars, fruit and veggie cups, and canned proteins to older residents.
In the last fiscal year, 5,555 snack bags were given to children and seniors in Southern Maryland.
Among the volunteers who do the packing is Garnette Jones, who learned about the food bank after moving to the area and seeking a way to meet people and get involved in the community. She telephoned the food bank, and Outreach Coordinator Monica Bumbray provided her with information about the program and encouraged her to volunteer.
“[Monica] made me feel like I was wanted here,” Jones says. “The first day I came in, she put me in the room, and I started 300 senior saks. I think I did 150 that day and 150 the next day.”
Jones has been volunteering for more than six months. “I had this feeling like I was needed here, and that’s all I was looking for.”
As the Southern Maryland Food Bank prepares to mark its 40th anniversary in September, Catholic Charities is planning to extend the Senior Saks program to more locations and recipients. Donations will be critical to this plan.
Christina DeNovio, a junior at Wake Forest University, was a fall 2022 intern at Catholic Charities.