Many local children go home hungry on the weekends. A new ministry in South Shore hopes to help.

Florida ranks fourth in the United States for the number of K-12 students eligible for Federal Food Assistance programs. In our own community it’s becoming increasingly difficult for parents to feed their children due to inflation, job loss and low wages.

Hillsborough County provides free breakfasts to students and students can also qualify for lunch assistance; however, many children have not food on the weekends. With this in mind, Backpacks On A Mission was born.

Backpacks On A Mission fills backpacks for  hungry children each Friday for food to eat for the weekend. On Monday, the children return the backpacks to their teachers. Volunteers pick up the backpacks and refill them for the next Friday.

Kathy McGartland, community liaison for The Good Samaritan Mission and member of South Shore United Methodist Church (SSUMC) is the backback mission coordinator.

“I had been working with Good Samaritan Mission for years. I wanted to volunteer in some way through my church, too,” said McGartland. “I loved the thought of helping children through the schools.” 

The church has been working  with Summerfield Crossing Elementary in Riverview to identify children in need with the help of the school counselor and teachers.

“It’s hard to believe that children in our community are going to bed hungry,” added McGartland.

The backpack ministry launched in mid-January and is filling backpacks for 12 children weekly. The goal is to have 25 backpacks filled weekly by the end of the school year and 50 backpacks to be filled weekly by the fall school season.

Sweetbay donates a $25 gift card quarterly to help with food purchases. The mission heavily relies on individual donations to fill the weekly backpacks. Tire Choice on Big Bend Rd., in Riverview has an ongoing food drive and food can also be dropped off at South Shore United Methodist Church located at 11525 Big Bend Rd., in Riverview.

Snacks in the backpacks include cereal, oatmeal, easy mac and cheese cups, pudding cups, cereal bars, soup, juice, shelf milk, applesauce, ravioli, peanut butter and jelly, fruit cups, fresh fruit, bread and bagels.

The ministry needs volunteers to fill the backpacks, gather food, need gift cards to grocery stores and food donations. If you are interested in helping, contact McGartland at

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Kelly Wise Valdes
Kelly Wise Valdes has been writing for the Osprey Observer since 2008. She graduated in 1989 from Florida Southern College with a B.S. in Communications and enjoys writing and traveling. She currently resides in northern Hillsborough County with her husband, David. When not traveling and writing, Kelly and her husband enjoy spending time with their five grown children (as well as their grandchildren) that still keep them very busy.