Powerpack Program expands to 9 schools

February 23, 2013

Ryan Scott Ottney

PDT Staff Writer

The Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund added two schools to its Powerpack backpack food program and will add another two in the coming weeks to serve nearly 500 students at nine Scioto County schools.

“We have a large percentage of free and reduced lunches in our school district and this was something that we wanted for quite some time. I think it’s to the point now that when they get the Powerpack, I don’t have to worry so much about this group of kids because I know at least they are going to get something to eat,” said Green Elementary intervention specialist Melissa Knapp after the program distributed packs of food to school children.

The Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund Powerpack Program started in 2010 by Mark and Virgie Hunter, with 120 students at the Portsmouth City School District. The Hope Fund is named in memory of their son Steven — a Portsmouth High School graduate who passed away suddenly in 2006 while attending Milligan Christian College in eastern Tennessee.

“It started as a desire to do more for the children. We were already doing lots of services with the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, and Virgie, who has such a big heart, told me one evening we need to do more. She explained that she had seen a show on TV talking about childhood hunger in America and what a problem it is and what’s being done to try to combat it, and they talked about the backpack program,” said Mark Hunter.

The program provides each student with five pounds of food to take home for the weekend. According to Hunter, one backpack, with four meals worth of food inside, costs just $3, and $120 will feed a student every weekend for an entire school year.

“We were fortunate enough that our local foodbank, the FreeStore Foodbank (in Cincinnati), had a Powerpack program. Not all of them do. We met with them and came up with an arrangement that they would bring them to Portsmouth, and of course we would pay for them,” Hunter said.

While most kids can be assured breakfast and lunch while at school through the week, there is no guarantee they’ll have anything when they go home or for the entire weekend. Hunter said that according to the Feeding America Organization, about 1-in-6 children in the United States is considered to be food insecure, which means they are not sure where their next meal will come from. In Scioto County, he said, it’s closer to 1-in-3.

Since it started at Portsmouth Elementary 3-years ago, the backpack program has expanded to also cover New Boston, Northwest, Valley and West Portsmouth elementaries. This week, the program added Green to its list and would have started at Clay on Friday except the school was closed for icy weather. The program will begin at Clay on Monday and in the coming weeks it will grab two more school districts, Minford and South Webster.

Green Elementary intervention specialist Kasey Rush knew Steven Hunter and said she knows he would be so proud to see what his parents, Mark and Virgie Hunter, were doing to help children in his memory.

“It’s really nice that I got to be a part of it. I feel really excited about it,” she said.

The Powerpack Program is funded through fundraisers, such as the Steven A. Hunter Tennis Tournament and the Flying Pig Marathon and private donations. The Hope Fund received a $4,000 donation just last week from Southern Ohio Medical Center and also receives donations from area churches, Rotary, Kiwanis, and teachers at Portsmouth City Schools.

“Last year, a little over 95 percent of everything we took in went directly to programs. I’m very proud of that number. It’s pretty hard to achieve among non-profits,” Hunter said.

For more information about the programs offered by the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, visit them online at stevenshopefund.org.

Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, rottney@civitasmedia.com.