Ronald Robbins and his wife, Samra, are on a mission to make sure no metro area school children ever have to tell this story.
“A young boy told us that on the weekends, they had so little food that his brother ate on Saturday, and he ate on Sunday,” recalled Robbins.
In 2011, the couple launched the nonprofit Backpack Buddies to feed children on weekends when school meals aren’t available. The program began in Savannah with eight children and grew to 150 before the couple moved to Dunwoody in 2017.
“When we came here, we joined Congregation Beth Shalom and asked the rabbi if we could do the same program,” said Robbins. “And we did.”
The couple met with area churches and synagogues to set up partnerships to put a nutritious mix of foods into needy students’ backpacks. They were inspired by the statistics reported nationally and by the Atlanta Community Food Bank that one of every six children in the metro area go hungry at night. They were also looking for a way to honor the memory of their daughter who died in 2019.
“She was a terrific teacher,” said Samra Robbins. “Many of the children we’re feeding are [needy] ones she taught. It would bring her great joy to know these children are being fed. And we’re both retired, and life’s been good to us, so we’re trying to give back.”
But efforts to expand their services were hindered by not having the space to warehouse the food stuffs. That changed on Aug. 12 when they opened a food storage facility in the Williamsburg at Dunwoody shopping center.
“Our biggest problem was we couldn’t increase the number of children we serve; we just didn’t have the space,” said Robbins. “Now with this mini food bank, we can give our 17 partners food for free, and they can stop scrounging for food.”
Having the space to store the food supplies has inspired the couple to start recruiting more partners to distribute them.
“We try to have the school as close to the partner organization as possible,” said Samra Robbins. “We just went to Snellville to talk to people at Temple Beth David, and they’ve already talked to people at nearby Britt Elementary. Our goal is to meld the school and the organization and to get them talking.”
The couple aims to dramatically increase the number of children being served, going as high as 2,000 or 3,000.
“We’re already working with schools in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett, and we’re just starting in Cobb,” said Robbins. “Where we’ll get the money, I don’t know. We have community support, and we’ve got some grants and corporate donations. And we’re out there knocking on doors.”
Information about Backpack Buddies is online at backpackbuddiesatl.org.
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