by JAMES PHILLIPS
Backyard Blessings, a group that gives food to area needy students, is holding a free family festival this weekend to raise awareness about the program.Leneda Jones
Each week during the school year, Backyard Blessings volunteers pack bags that are discretely placed in the backpacks of students who may be food insecure. The program began in Sumiton Elementary School when it was established three years ago. It now also serves children at T.S. Boyd and Dora High School. Leneda Jones, executive director of Backyard Blessings, told members of the Kiwanis Club of Jasper Monday morning that volunteers from the group gave out 5,892 bags to 211 students in east Walker County last year.
“We are living in a time where people are struggling that have never struggled before,” Jones said. “We want to show children that somebody loves them enough to make sure that they have food.”
Jones announced at Monday’s Kiwanis meeting Backyard Blessings would be expanding this fall to include two Jasper elementary schools — Memorial Park and T.R. Simmons. She said the effort in the Jasper schools is possible because of a new partnership with First United Methodist Church of Jasper.
“We’re excited to be expanding to Jasper,” she said. “It’s our understanding that another church is taking care of West Jasper Elementary, so that will cover all the elementary schools in the city. We hope to one day be in every school in the county.”
Jones said during Saturday’s festival, donations will be accepted. She said volunteers will be taking in food donations and collection buckets will be passed for monetary donations.
“This is a fundraiser for us,” she said. “Last year, we were able to raise $5,000. We are hoping to raise $10,000 this year.”
While donations will be accepted, Jones said the reason for the event is to give families some free entertainment.
“It’s expensive to take a family anywhere these days,” she said. “We want this to be an event that the whole family can enjoy and them not have to pay a thing.”
The festival, which begins at 7 p.m. and is being held at the Sumiton Community Center (behind Walmart), will include several musical performances. Artists scheduled for the event include folk singers Rick and Jilda Watson, The Kool Katz Jazz Band, gospel singers the Bozeman Family and Covered by Grace and rock band Old Machines. Jones said each of the musicians have donated their time for the event.
“Leneda Jones and Backyard Blessings is a charity near and dear to our hearts,” Rick Watson said. “Jilda and I consider it a blessing to have the opportunity to play for an event that helps feed needy children in our community.”
In addition to musical acts, the festival will also include a large kids area with free games and inflatables. Jones said the Face-Painting Fairy will be there, and Charter Communications and Bevill State Community College have teamed up to provide a free outdoor movie and popcorn. “We’ve even got free snow cones,” she said. “I think kids will have a great time Saturday.”
The Daily Mountain Eagle is also holding a food and donation drive for Backyard Blessings.
Organizers asked for individually-wrapped, non-perishable food items that can be prepared by a child.
Anyone interested in donating can bring food items into the Eagle's main office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday. Monetary donations can be mailed to Backyard Blessings Food Drive, ? Daily Mountain Eagle, P.O. Box 1469, Jasper, AL.
For more information about Backyard Blessings, contact Jones at 205-544-9094.