Stephenville City Park was quickly filled with hungry community members Friday as Leadership Stephenville Class of 2017 members served up $5 hamburger meals to benefit Backpack Buddies of Erath County.  

“As of now we’ve sold over 1,400 tickets so it’s going very well,” Leadership Stephenville member and TexasBank Mortgage Lender, Kelli Raymond said around noon Friday.

The Backpack Buddies program is an important one to lots of area kids who might otherwise go hungry on weekends when there’s no school lunch.

At Stephenville ISD, 47 percent of students receive free or reduced-cost lunches and Backpack Buddies of Erath County helps feed children on weekends by providing four meals and snacks.

Backpack Buddies Director Sena Leese said it's a county effort that includes help from churches, organizations and individuals, and that the program has been serving students for the past five years.

"We contact the school and we work through the school counselors and they work with their team on other campuses to find those children in need," Leese said. "A child doesn't need to be on free or reduced lunches to receive Backpack Buddies, and it's all done confidentially."

Shelby Slawson, a member of Leadership Stephenville, said each class is charged with coming up with a project that will benefit the community.

“When the 2017 Leadership class asked how we could help with the mission of Backpack Buddies to provide food packages for Erath County school children at risk of going hungry on the weekends, we were told they needed to raise awareness and financial support,” Slawson said. “It has been our great privilege to watch how this community has responded to the Burgers for Backpack Buddies campaign. Generous sponsors provided all of the food and supplies for the hamburger lunches—and the tickets sold out twice.”

In February Leadership Stephenville distributed 270 hand-painted little peg dolls, which represented each child served by Backpack Buddies.

“The purpose of the pegs was to provide a way to personalize, visualize, and discuss childhood hunger—and this community responded with great love and enthusiasm for the cause,” Slawson said. “The Leadership class motto this year is ‘We rise by lifting others’—a sentiment shared and exemplified all across this great, generous community.”

Here are some more facts about Backpack Buddies of Erath County:

• $5 feeds one hungry Erath County child for a weekend.

• Each Friday, Backpack Buddies of Erath County delivers bags of child-friendly, non-perishable food to area schools to be sent home with students most at risk of weekend hunger.

• Weekend food for each child in the program costs: $30 for 6-weeks, $90 for one semester and $180 for the school year.