ORANGE CITY – It all started when Kelli Marks heard a woman cry.
It was 2019 and a new school year had recently started when Marks stopped at Orange City Elementary School, where her children were attending at the time.
Marks learned why the mother was upset.
“The school pantry at that time was empty,” Marks said.
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So Marks turned to Facebook for help.
“In less than 24 hours, we stocked the school pantry and obviously brought food for this family,” Marks said.
The experience showed her the needs of her own community which she could not ignore.
Soon after, Our Two Stories, Inc., better known as the Backpack Buddies of Orange City, was born.
“Our name is a little misleading because a lot of people think we’re just stuffing backpacks,” Marks said.
About 350 children in four schools in the western part of Volusia County receive at least one weekend meal before leaving school on Friday.
There are 185 children on the program’s waiting list, Marks said.
While feeding the children is at the heart of the nonprofit, more than 10,000 people have received food this year through the organization’s pantry and food delivery events, such as the one on Friday. .
It’s the season
Friday’s food delivery to the PFC Emory L. Bennett Veterans Memorial Park did not officially start until 9 a.m., but residents of Volusia County started lining up hours earlier.
“We’re getting everyone ready for the holidays,” Marks said as cars began to drive through the pantry and Christmas music played on the radio.
Each vehicle was numbered so that volunteers knew how much food was needed.
Through partnerships with several entities – including Farm Share, Society of St. Andrew, Orange City, All Terrain Tractor Service Inc., B&G Equipment, Nice N Easy Oyster Bar and Grille, Dunkin ‘Donuts and Amazon – Marks and its volunteers have been able to distribute meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, juice and other perishable and non-perishable items.
Leighsha Johnson, Farm Share’s community food distribution coordinator, said the food is provided free to organizations, such as Backpack Buddies.
The supply chain issues that plagued many people across the country luckily haven’t been a problem for Farm Share, Johnson said.
“We’ve had constant donations luckily so we’ve always been able to provide,” Johnson said.
Volunteer Nina Hernandez took her 3 year old nephew Isaiah “so he knows the importance of helping others and helping your community”.
“And you get to know people that way,” Hernandez said.
Dawn Tiamson and her mother came to collect food for the elderly in need.
“We check them out and make sure they’re okay,” said Tiamson, who is married to Orange city councilor Alex Tiamson.
She said she enjoyed helping the community and the reaction the gesture elicits.
“It’s either with tears or they’re so elated because they normally can’t go out and get these things,” Tiamson said.
Carolyn Grajeda, who lives in the Water Oak Apartments in Orange City, an affordable senior housing community, came to Friday’s event to pick up food, although she is sure she will share with a neighbor or two.
“We look out for each other,” Grajeda said.
She said she was grateful for the work of Backpack Buddies.
“It means a lot because it really helps us,” Grajeda said. “They are wonderful people and we really appreciate him.”
Vivian Sanchez echoed that sentiment.
Sanchez said she was visiting the nonprofit for food aid over the past year as she saw a reduction in food stamps.
When she has something she doesn’t need, Sanchez brings it to Marks for someone else in need.
“I don’t like things to be messed up,” Sanchez said.
Marks said it’s not unusual for someone who has been helped by Backpack Buddies to give back to the organization in some way once they are able. Others even volunteered while receiving food aid.
Since starting the association, Marks said he had encountered two common problems.
“One is that a lot of people don’t have the vehicle to pick up [the food]”said Marks.
For new customers in this situation, the association will deliver the food the first time to those within a certain radius, Marks said. For later supplies, the person in need can send a friend or neighbor to pick him up.
“The other thing that I hear a lot is that these people are working, but they don’t earn enough to cover their bills and everything, so they try to supplement their food through the pantries,” Marks said.
Francine Lucas, who volunteered at the Friday morning food depot, said she hoped Backpack Buddies had helped people avoid having to choose between paying bills or buying food.
“It’s not gratifying to see families in need, however, it’s gratifying to see that they can get what they need,” said Lucas.
Marks, who is also vice mayor of Orange City, said she owed a lot to her volunteers, many of whom are seniors.
“It’s the best thing about it for me, so many people want to help,” Marks said.
She said those in need of assistance who were unable to attend the food delivery can call 386-218-5776.