While many people are wondering when – or whether – public school students will be returning to the classroom this fall, the Ruritan Club of Snowville is meeting the immediate needs of their students through a community effort and the Backpack Buddy Program.
Amanda Dishon, Snowville Ruritan Club vice president, remarked, “When the schools shut down in Virginia because of COVID-19, we were concerned. So many families rely on the school lunch program to feed their kids. When we discovered the Snowville School was going to be providing lunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we decided to supplement their program and provide free lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Amy Shrewsbury, Principal at Snowville Elementary School expressed her appreciation. “I want everyone to know just how much we appreciate the long-standing relationship with our Ruritan community. They diligently work together to help families in our community and are an amazing group of people and an excellent asset. They work closely to make sure the children in our community get what they need, such as this feeding program. They give awards to the students, like the Kindness Award in which teachers nominate students for outstanding acts of kindness.”
After the decision to help was made, the next step was figuring out how to pay for and initiate the feeding program. According to Dishon, she and Sharon Flesher, Snowville Ruritan Club president, reached out to the Ruritan Club.
“The Ruritans made an initial donation and agreed to contribute $600 toward the feeding program; and plan to revisit the donation at a later date. So many people in the Snowville community have offered to help and are pitching in. It’s a community effort. We’ve received donations of food and money, too.” She named Cecil’s Chapel United Methodist Church volunteers Judy Barr and Salina Smiley and the Snowville Masonic Lodge #159 among the many outstanding contributors.
Dishon says they reached out to the Backpack Buddy Program at Snowville Elementary School.
“The Backpack Buddy Program already had a distribution system set up for food boxes. In addition to the boxes, we started doing the bag lunches. The Ruritan Club is providing between 80 to 100 bag lunches per week. We were glad we could help,” comments Dishon.
The Ruritan Bag Lunch menus change daily, but consist of an entre` such as spaghetti, hamburger, hot dog or chicken, juice or a drink, fruit and a side item.
As if Dishon, who is also the U.S. History and Service Learning teacher at Pulaski County High School and Flesher, who is the manager at Arby’s in Dublin, didn’t have enough to occupy their time, they along with several volunteers, do the shopping, coordinating, food preparation and stuffing bags for the feeding program.
Food distribution takes place at the Snowville Elementary School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We don’t know how long we can keep going with the feeding program. Judging on the demand and ability to meet the demand, it will be at least through June,” states Dishon.
The sign outside the elementary school reads “free student lunch,” but anyone asking for a free lunch will receive one.
“If anyone comes in and says they’re hungry, we give a lunch to them. Usually the parent comes in, but some older kids who can drive occasionally pick up the lunches. We have made some deliveries if no one is available to pick up a lunch,” continues Dishon.
Regarding her passion for helping others, Dishon says: “I grew up with two parents very involved in serving others. They were on the rescue squad, involved in church activities, and other volunteer organizations.” Dishon, who began volunteering with the Ruritan Club at age 17, is a strong advocate for volunteerism and believes the Ruritan Club presents opportunities for students to discover ways to give back.
“Volunteerism is not as prevelent as it used to be and while our club is a great resource for the community, we are worried about volunteer clubs being able to continue due to dwindling membership. Many of our members are senior citizens. The times are different now. People are always on the go, our kids have so many scheduled activities; and time becomes extremely precious,” she says reflectively.
Although Dishon appreciates everyone who is willing to help, younger volunteers are especially noteworthy. She recognizes exemplary students Gabby Duncan, sophomore at PCHS who has been volunteering through the Ruritan Club; and elementary student Hollace Oakes, who donated funds from her JamStand which she started as a nine-year-old.
Donations can be mailed to Snowville Ruritan, c/o Kenneth Harrell, 3255 Simpkinstown Rd., Hiwassee, VA 24347 or dropped of at the Ruritan building any Tuesday or Thursday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If anyone has any questions about joining the club or about how to help with the outreach they do they can email Amanda Dishon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.
By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot
Below is a letter that Hollace Oakes wrote when she donated some of her JamStand money to the Snowville Ruritan Feeding Project.
“HI, my name is Hollace Oakes. I’m 9 years old and I’m in 4th grade at Snowville Elementary School in Mrs. Arnold’s class.
“My mom noticed on the Snowville Ruritan Facebook page that they were feeding children on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They were requesting donations. Mom sent some grocery items to be used and she asked me if there was anything I could do to help. I immediately said that I could give some of my JamStand money to help.
“My 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Payne, taught me about Economics and I decided that I would start a JamStand to make some money. That August, I had my first JamStand. I sold applebutter and strawberry jam that I helped to make. I split my earnings up into envelopes. Some for saving, for giving, for crafts, for books and more. I’ve continued this each summer and now I sell blueberry and kiwi jams, too.
“So, I used some of my giving money to donate to the Snowville Ruritans Feeding project. I think it is important for kids to have yummy foods to eat all the time, everyday. I know the Ruritans will help any kids in our community who are hungry. And, that’s a good thing!”