While others took a day off on the third Monday of January, 70 students from several high schools devoted the day to packing hundreds of backpacks full of food so needy school children would not go hungry on weekends.Area high school students worked together to fill backpacks with non-perishable, kid-friendly food for the Food 4 Kids program.

As part of the Youth Against Hunger program, students from Parish, St. Mark's, Hockaday, the Episcopal School of Dallas, Highland Park, Greenhill and J.J. Pearce high schools spent the day sorting canned goods, potatoes and meats, providing in total 20,683 meals.

“I was so proud of them. They planned the whole thing,” said Natalie Butters, the volunteer coordinator for the Food Bank. The Food Bank's backpack program, called Food 4 Kids, addresses the challenge that many elementary school children, who are on the free and reduced-price school meal program, face when they leave school for the weekends.

The Food 4 Kids program provides backpacks full of non-perishable, kid-friendly food for them to take home on Friday afternoons. Last year, the program grew to 330 schools, feeding about 11,000 hungry children in Dallas and surrounding counties.

The program was created last August when several high school students, including Kendall Wolkenstein, a student at J.J. Pearce High School, turned their passion for combating hunger into action. Wolkenstein, the daughter of Food Bank board member Jon Wolkenstein, was working on her Girls Scouts Gold Award by volunteering at the Food Bank. She brainstormed with other students about ways they might motivate high school students to be more involved in fighting hunger. From those discussions, the students formed a teen board that now meets monthly to plan activities to fight hunger.

The event on King's birthday turned “a day off” into “a day of service,” in the spirit of the civil rights leader, said Christi Morrow, the Community Service Director for the Episcopal School of Dallas.

“What was really so exciting about this event was that our students compete in everything – academics, sports, even the robotics program,” Morrow said. “This was a time when they actually did not compete. They worked together on a common cause. That was cool.”

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