Kingsport Times-News: United Way of Southwest Virginia seeking sponsors for students in Lee and Scott counties

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United Way of Southwest Virginia seeking sponsors for students in Lee and Scott counties

Staff report • Aug 30, 2016 at 7:00 PM

ABINGDON — Backpacks Unite, a partnership between Food City and United Way of Southwest Virginia, has become one of the largest food-filled backpack distribution efforts in the region. Now in its sixth year with a program budget of more than $150,000 and feeding more than 800 students, Backpacks Unite is ready to expand again.

United Way of Southwest Virginia is seeking sponsor organizations willing to adopt additional schools in the region — specifically in the counties of Lee, Scott, Smyth and Giles for the 2016-2017 school year.

“Since the program’s inception in 2009, the number of schools served has almost doubled,” said Travis Staton, CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia. “That means there are schools counting on the contents of those backpacks to feed many of their students each weekend and over the holidays.”

Out of the 18 regional organizations and businesses that currently sponsor schools, one of the largest is UPS Richlands.

“This year we are sponsoring nine schools providing over 200 children with food throughout the school year. We are very excited to be participating again,” Mike Sharpe, on-call supervisor at UPS Richlands said.

“Backpacks Unite has great community partners like UPS Richlands that take pride in knowing they’re making a huge difference in our region’s children,” said Steve Smith, CEO of Food City. “Now that United Way has the means to expand into more schools, they will need more organizations like UPS to assist with the program by adopting a school.”

Adopting a school for the year first involves contributing a match of $2,400 for weekend meals during the school year (feeding around 24 children per school). Then, every six weeks, the adopting organizations will pick up the food, pack the backpacks and take the backpacks to the school. Foods are rotated with each distribution so students are introduced to a variety of healthy foods over the course of the school year, including options like oatmeal, cereal bars, wheat crackers, peanut butter, mandarin oranges, soup and raisins.

Companies and organizations wishing to adopt a school, or those that would like to learn more about Backpacks Unite, are encouraged to contact United Way of Southwest Virginia at (276) 628.2160 or [email protected]

United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Backpacks Unite program partners with organizations that “adopt” schools in the area. School personnel identify children and obtain parental permission to enroll them in the Backpacks Unite program, and then United Way works with Food City on logistical matters and securing healthy foods. Organizations adopting a school pick up the food, pack the backpacks, and distribute groups of backpacks to the schools so students can discreetly receive food before school dismisses for the weekend.

For more information about Backpacks Unite and how to get involved, visit

United Way of Southwest Virginia is a volunteer organization providing support and visibility through tools, partners, advocacy, and other resources to advance the common good. United Way mobilizes thousands of people to give, advocate and volunteer to improve education, help people achieve financial stability and promote healthy lives across Southwest Virginia. United Way of Southwest Virginia covers more than 5,860 square miles, approximately 15 percent of the state of Virginia, and more than 350,000 residents in the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and the cities of Galax and Norton.

For more information on United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit

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