Backpacks will no longer hold political propaganda
By Carrie A. Mizell
The Senior Citizens Food Pantry has been providing school-age children with backpacks filled with food and, recently, information on several local political candidates.
Superintendent Don Thomas said on Tuesday that it is against school district policy for political propaganda to be given out on school grounds.
“We had no part in this, and we didn’t know it was going on,” Thomas said.
Once school personnel at Trenton and Bell schools opened the backpacks and found political propaganda along with food, they notified school district officials, who contacted Rick Weder, director of the Senior Citizens Food Pantry and told him that the distribution of political material had to stop.
“No one realized it was against the rules,” Weder said. “It was a mistake.”
Though it is implemented by the Senior Citizens Food Pantry, the weekend backpack program is funded by a $20,000 grant from the J.R. Albert Foundation, in an effort to reduce chronic child hunger over the weekends.
Initially, Superintendent Thomas said the school district was thankful to support Weder’s efforts to help hurting people in the community.
“We hope that this program reaches out to our families in need and offers support to our students,” Thomas said in January. “We are thankful for community members that look for ways to help make our community a better place.”
On Monday, Weder said he hopes the decision to place political propaganda into the 192 backpacks distributed at Trenton and Bell schools, along with First Place Academy, will not jeopardize the program.
“As soon as it was caught, it was stopped,” Weder said. “I don’t want to jeopardize this for the kids.”
According to Weder, 10 to 12 volunteers from Pine Grove Baptist Church pack the backpacks every Wednesday morning with food. Once they are packed with juice boxes, cereal, canned foods, and snacks they are delivered to the schools on Thursdays and Fridays and distributed by teachers.
Bro. Rickey Whitley of Pine Grove Baptist Church said on Tuesday that he had no knowledge that political propaganda was being sent out in the backpacks. Volunteers from the church only packed food in the backpacks.
Campaign material for candidates Robert Rankin, Kenrick Thomas and Bobby Shultz was reportedly distributed. Schultz, a candidate for Gilchrist County Sheriff, said on Tuesday that he was not aware his campaign material was being sent out in the backpacks. He questioned whether someone would send out the information to help or hinder a political candidate’s campaign.Robert Rankin and Kenrick Thomas also said they were not aware that their campaign materials were being given out in the backpacks.