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BOSWELL — Helping Hands Food Pantry, in Boswell, will serve about 100 children each week this school year through its Backpack Program.

“These kids are hungry. There are no jobs around here and it’s my mission to help feed these kids,” said Georgia Sheftic, President of Helping Hands Food Pantry and Thrift Shop.

Last fall, the pantry received a $2,500 grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to help begin its backpack program. It started last year serving about 60 kids and quickly grew to more than 70, with more growth expected this year.

The kids in the program get about five pounds of food once a week to take home. Sheftic said the teachers will discreetly put the bag in the kids’ backpack to take home.

“We started this because we felt there was a need,” said Sheftic. “There truly is, and we’re only serving the North Star School District.”

Sheftic said Windber and Rockwood school districts are looking into starting a similar program and she is working with officials to help start those.

“We get a lot of help from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. It’s phenomenal,” said Sheftic. ”We are a happy family of 65 volunteers who are dedicated to helping our community.”

Backpack food programs, which have been in existence nationwide for more than a decade, provide children at risk of weekend hunger with a bag of food that is child-friendly, nonperishable, nutritious, and easy to prepare and eat.

“The parents of the kids know what we do and there’s a lot who are very grateful for the help during these difficult times. That’s what we are here for, to help.”

Sheftic said there are programs to help individual communities; people just need to know where to look.

“I hope people read this and realize there is help out there.”

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