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Buddy system
Air Guard unit pitches in for Backpack Buddies
backpack buddies 1
Master Sgt. Todd Freeman, left, and Lt. Col. Ron Speir, second from right, present Marlow Elementary School Principal Wallace Blackstock, far right, and assistant principal Leslie Dickerson with a check for the schools Backpack Buddies program from the 117th Air Control Squadron.

The Backpack Buddies program at Marlow Elementary School got a big lift from the members of the 117th Air Control Squadron.

Representatives from the Georgia Air National Guard unit presented a $300 check to Marlow Elementary Principal Wallace Blackstock to help with the school’s program that provides food to needy students.

“Our squadron has always been involved in the community,” said Master Sgt. Jason Freeman.

Blackstock said the school has the program for every school weekend, aside from those weekends that lead into holidays. The school holds fundraisers throughout the year to support its food purchases and also works with local churches.

“We take volunteer food from several churches and use fundraisers throughout the year so we can buy non-perishables and send them home,” he said.

Marlow Elementary has been participating in Backpack Buddies for four years. Students whose families are in need are identified and are sent home with a bag of food for the weekend. In cases where the family has more than one student at the school, multiple bags are sent home with them.

“We send home nutritious food that the children are able to use and prepare and fix themselves a lot,” Blackstock said. “It’s not something that requires a lot of cooking.”

Master Sgt. Freeman, the unit’s first sergeant, knew about the program. His wife Pamela was a paraprofessional at the school for nearly 10 years. He was hesitant to suggest the school as a recipient of the unit’s donations for fear of a conflict of interest.

His wife is no longer a parapro there, and another airman in the unit brought Freeman’s attention to a story he saw about the school and Backpack Buddies.

When the unit, which has members from as far away as Arizona, has its unit training assembly, the airmen are asked to contribute according to their rank.

“Some give $20 every weekend,” Freeman said.

Freeman said that while most donations and assistance from charities is geared toward the end of the year, the 117th targets giving throughout the year.

“It’s awesome,” said Lt. Col. Ron Speir, commander of the nearly 185 members of the 117th. “We do this and other things throughout the year. It’s great to teach the young folks to give back to the community. It’s been a long tradition our unit has had. One of the great things is being able to give back to children.”

Blackstock credited Marlow Elementary counselor Tonya Ward for spearheading the Backpack Buddies at the school.

“She does the home contacts to see if this would be a program that would help their families,” he said. “She does the shopping when it’s necessary. She contacts the churches making the donations. She bags the food and delivers it to the classroom.

“She really is a one-person force to do this.”

Though Marlow isn’t classified as a Title I school — a federal designation based on the number of students receiving free or reduced meals — there are many families who could be helped by Backpack Buddies, Blackstock said.

The donation will be put to use and will be a big help, according to Blackstock.

“It will help us to make purchases,” he said. “At times, churches might not bring in canned goods and donations as much. Then we as school can shop for however many kids we are serving. This money will be very helpful.”