BackPack school program continues to feed children in summer

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A family trades orange vouchers for wooden coins at the BackPack Buddies of Bluffton Summer Nutrition Club tent at the Bluffton Farmers Market in June. Each coin is worth $2 and can be spent at any produce farmer's booth. Volunteering at the table this da

Three elementary school children approached the Summer Nutrition Club tent at the Bluffton Farmers Market, smiling and waving bright orange slips of paper in their hands.

Ken and Sue Kroupa saw them and called to them, "Hi kids! Good to see you!"

The children, with their grandparents close by, handed their orange vouchers to a volunteer at the table, while another volunteer counted out wooden coins into a plastic sandwich bag.

Each child waited patiently for his and her bag of 10 coins.

Now, the family had extra currency, a value of $20 per bag, to buy their weekly fresh produce from the farmers at the market.

When the market closes, the Kroupas will make the rounds to each farmer and "buy back" the coins. "In our first two weeks this summer, we cashed out $3,000 to the farmers," Sue said. "The farmers say they do well when the kids are here."

Next week, the children will return with a voucher of a different color and get more coins to spend.

This is the Summer Nutrition Program in action, a part of the BackPack Buddies of Bluffton, a program the Kroupas started through the nonprofit Crossroads Community Support Services to address childhood hunger.

BackPack Buddies, Sue Kroupa said, provides weekend provisions to about 270 families, or 852 children, all of whom receive free or reduced lunches, during the school year. The program serves 14 elementary schools in Bluffton and Hardeeville.

In order to continue serving those families during the summer, on the last day of school, the children are each given a booklet of vouchers to use at the Farmers Market for 10 weeks.

BackPack Buddies partnered with the Farmers Market, which provides a tent and a space, as well as market bags.

"We like to have the kids here," Sue said. "It's kinda cool to see a kid with two coins bargaining with a farmer to see how much he can get for his coins," Ken said. "Some of the farmers might give them a little more."

The coins are not accepted for any products other than produce - no kettle corn, no sodas, no freezer pops. "The bottom line is, were getting food to the children," Sue said.

Patricia Walls of Hardeeville, a grandmother who said she has six grandchildren and three adults living with her, turned in two vouchers. "This is a wonderful thing," she said. "The kids probably wouldn't get as many fruits and vegetables as they will with this. We certainly appreciate the help."

For more information about BackPack Buddies of Bluffton, call the Kroupas at 843-645-6303.

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