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Filling the Food Gap: Oxford Lovepacks

Sponsored by Oxford University Bank

By Hayden Wiggs

Lovepacks is a local non-profit organization working to eliminate food insecurity in the Oxford and Lafayette County school districts. The group, led by a coalition of moms and student volunteers, discreetly provides convenient, non-perishable foods to students in need before they leave school on Friday afternoons.

“At school, our kids get a free breakfast and free lunch during the school week, but then, they are going home and may not have enough food for the weekend,” explained Camie Bianco, one of the Lovepacks board members. “The mission of Lovepacks is to make sure our kids have supplemental food on the weekends and holidays during the school year.”

The organization came about in 2010 when Lovepacks founder Mary Leary went to visit a family member and volunteered with a similar program. When she returned to Oxford, she and her Ole Miss college roommate Helen Phillips met with the principal of Bramlett Elementary School to determine if there was a local need for Lovepacks.

At first, the women purchased and distributed the food themselves before creating a larger team in the summer of 2010. The directors are Leary, Phillips, Bianco and fellow mom Alyce Krouse. Since receiving a small start-up donation from the local food pantry, Lovepacks has continued to grow each year.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of the Oxford community over the past 10 years,” said Bianco. “We often refer to ourselves as very ‘grassroots,’ as we are a bunch of moms that saw the need wanted to fill it. And now, we have a lot of different groups that help us fill these needs.”

According to Bianco, it is imperative that these needs are filled. It is important for growing children to eat three meals a day, as food insecurity is linked to more than just health problems.

“Food security is connected to attendance at school, as well as with behavior and focus,” said Bianco. “If you are hungry, it is really hard to concentrate on your math or reading assignments. We have seen that a lot of kids who know they are getting a Lovepack come to school, so the program is vitally important.”

The organization has several pantries throughout the area to provide for the highest number of students. The primary pantry is in Oxford Middle School, with secondary locations at Lafayette Upper Elementary and at Oxford High School.

“Within each pantry, we have a group of students that actually pack for us and organize our pantries,” said Bianco. “It’s a well-oiled machine at this point. It’s pretty amazing.”

Lovepacks could not carry out their duties without the help of donors and volunteers. Those interested in getting involved can either email lovepacks@gmail.com, or visit their website at lovepacksoxford.com.

“The best way to get the word out, though, is through word-of-mouth,” said Bianco. “Because the parents and the kids are talking about it, our community has learned who we are and what we do.”

For Bianco and her fellow board members, what they do is “immensely rewarding.”

“What we feel, as a board, is just gratitude to the community,” Bianco said. “They have believed in our mission and have supported us all these years. We feel so blessed to get to do this every week, and so blessed to live in the Oxford-Lafayette community and have these generous people all around us that help make this happen.”