Words that come to mind when one describes the town of Oxford are prosperity, the University, the Square and a bubble – all aspects that aid in dangling a veil over the eyes of Oxford citizens and visitors alike.
Oxford is multifaceted. She comes with the good and the bad, but in the spring of 2010, Oxford Lovepacks was formed, allowing vast strides to be made in combating the prominent issue of hunger amongst local, school-age children.
While conferring with a local teacher about whether or not Lovepacks’ services would be needed, the founders were told a story about a boy who was walking down the hallway with a leaky backpack. The teacher opened up the backpack to reveal numerous, unfinished cartons of milk that the child had stowed away, since he was unable to have milk at home.
Founders Mary Leary and Hellen Phillips were moved to take action, and with the help of the counselor of Bramlett Elementary, Linda Vaughn, the two began to distribute Lovepacks from their cars. That summer, Camille Bianco and Alyce Krouse joined the Lovepacks board, aiding in the eventual expansion to all nine Oxford/Lafayette schools as well as obtaining nonprofit status in 2012.
Oxford Lovepacks is currently distributing 165 meals weekly.
With a weeklong holiday nearing, the group is supplying every child with an extra Lovepack, which will contain a variety of non-perishable food items, from a jumbo jar of Skippy Peanut Butter to vegetable soup and crackers.
Meals are packed every Wednesday by the superior class, at Oxford Middle School, where the team’s pantry is located. Once the meals are packed, the parents pick up a specific number of Lovepacks to be delivered to a counselor at one of the nine schools. Counselors discreetly hand them out, typically on Fridays, so that the children are guaranteed something to eat over the weekend, despite not having access to a school breakfast or lunch.
Local grocery store, Larson’s Cash Saver, has not only kept Lovepacks’ pantry stocked with every bulk food order they’ve needed since the very beginning, but has delivered the orders right to their door.
Baptist Hospital has provided the team with fresh fruit for the past two years, allowing Lovepacks to give each child at least two pieces of fruit a week.
“Every bit of our money goes to buying food for the children,” Leary explained. With no paid employees, or bills for utilities or pantry space, every penny of donations is put towards purchasing Lovepacks, which are approximately $10 each.
Students at all nine Oxford/Lafayette schools bring in weekly donations, which are picked up by the volunteer parents on Wednesdays, when the meals are delivered. Another contributor, a university-affiliated honor society, Gamma Beta Phi, has been aiding Lovepacks since 2011 through consistent donations and on-campus food collections, which they deliver to the pantry’s doorstep.
The Young Professional Society held their second annual Our Team, Our Town fundraiser during the Ole Miss/Alabama football game at The Lyric this past fall. The community-wide tailgate, benefiting Oxford Lovepacks, ultimately raised the charity $11,000.
If you’re looking to get involved with Lovepacks, a fairly recent program is underway that allows anyone to sponsor a child for one $100 donation, ensuring they will not go without food for an entire school year.
With most of the hands-on work taken care of by the middle-schoolers who pack the meals weekly, Bianco emphasized, “The biggest way that we need the communities help is either through food drives or fundraisers.” If any Ole Miss students are looking to be a part of Lovepacks’ mission, they can also volunteer through the College Corps program.
Oxford Lovepacks stole the Oxford Restaurant Week title for the second time earlier this year. Coming out on top with the highest number of votes between the five local charities, Lovepacks walked away with $5,000.
When asked about expansions and aspirations for the future, both Leary and Bianco referenced being able to provide Lovepacks during the summer. They previously made an attempt at a summer box program, giving people a choice of two different dates where they can come to pick up the food, but Lovepacks is searching for a better strategy to go about carrying out future summer programs.
“Right now, we’re just trying to do what we’re doing and make sure that we do it well,” said Leary.