For the last three years Carter Caves State Resort Park has worked with the county’s school resource centers to collect food and funds for a backpack program that helps feed hungry students over weekends and holidays. The school resource centers know that many students suffer from food insecurity, and some of them only eat hot meals when they are provided for them at breakfast and lunch in the school, or over the summer when school lunch programs continue across the county.
The staff at Carter Caves have been happy to help fill those nutritional gaps with their “backpack program.” The program works with the resource centers to send needy students home with backpacks filled with non-perishable food items so they can have something to eat during those times when they aren’t in school. Not only does Carter Caves provide non-perishable food items and backpacks, but they also provide cash donations to the schools so they can purchase other needed items, or more food, to help meet the students’ needs.
Carter Caves relies on donations of food and money from the community every year to make the program a reality. This year, however, that need is especially pressing. One of the biggest fundraisers for the backpack program has been Carter Caves’ very popular Haunted Trail event. The event not only raised cash through entry fees to the Haunted Trail that could be put toward the program, it also provided a lot of the non-perishable food items used to fill those backpacks. The park collected those food items from Haunted Trail enthusiasts by offering a discount on entry for every donated canned or boxed good.
This year, however, the Haunted Trail – like many other events – was canceled due to COVID-19 related restrictions. While this was a disappointment for those who enjoy the Halloween season, and the thrills of a good jump scare, it could mean the difference between eating or going hungry for the kids who rely on the food and money raised by the event.
Park manager Chris Perry has taken the cancellation of his park’s various fundraisers in stride, and has been using social media to ask the community to pitch in, with some success. However, despite the generosity of the people and businesses of Carter County, the program is still running woefully short of the food and funds needed to feed all the children at risk of going hungry over holiday breaks.
We could go on and on about how it’s a shame that – in one of the wealthiest industrialized nations on earth – children go to bed hungry every night. But the simple fact of the matter is, they do. All the pontificating and editorializing and social commentary in the world does nothing to change that fact. The backpack program, on the other hand, does.
The work Chris and the rest of the staff at Carter Caves do for this program is a labor of love that has benefited countless children and families over the years. Though we praise them for the work they do, those praises aren’t why they do the work. They do it because they care, and because they want to make a difference.
They can’t make that difference without the support of the community, though. That’s true every year, but especially this year.
So we’re asking you to pitch in and help out. If you have an extra ten dollar bill floating around in your wallet, or a twenty, or a hundred, please consider donating that money to the backpack program.
If you don’t have that much money, maybe you can pick up an extra box of macaroni and cheese or an extra can of ravioli or soup when you go to the grocery store. Then take a drive to the park to enjoy the fall leaves before they all blow away and leave that food at the lodge where it will be sorted and redistributed to the schools.
Trust us when we tell you it means so much to the children who will benefit from it, more than most of us can realize, especially this year.