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TABLE’s Weekend Meal Backpack program, which feeds students in need, begins again today. About 31 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro elementary school children receive subsidized school lunches and breakfasts.

For those children, that usually means going hungry on weekends.

TABLE’s goal is provide healthy and nutritious food to students in need, said Ashton Chatham Tippins, TABLE’s executive director.

“One of our big goals is to serve 325 kids each week,” Tippins said.

TABLE served 12 students during the first week of the Weekend Meal Backpack program when it launched in 2008, said Laura Moore, TABLE’s program director.

TABLE has expanded its reach to more after school centers and nonprofit organizations this year, Tippins said. As of now, the organization serves four local elementary schools and hopes to serve as many as seven in the future.

The number of families receiving food and nutrition services more than doubled between 2008 and 2014, according to data compiled by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

TABLE gets connected to students in need through elementary schools, after-school programs and organizations like Empowerment Inc., which helps people find affordable housing options.

Sarita Nwachukwu, head of community programs at Empowerment Inc., said they serve as a liaison between students in need and TABLE.

“We work with a lot of low-income families through our community outreach program,” she said. “A lot of our tenants meet the criteria for free or subsidized lunch.”

Empowerment has been able to connect TABLE with 10 students in need this school year, Nwachukwu said.

“I know parents have been really excited about the quality of the food,” Nwachukwu said. “The kids are able to eat well over the weekend.”

The Weekend Meal Backpack program and SnackChef, another TABLE initiative, have helped students discover healthy foods they can add to their diets.

Moore said TABLE’s SnackChef program teaches kids to try healthy new foods. The program sends volunteers to after-school programs where they teach kids how to prepare simple, healthy snacks. Later, the children are sent home with the ingredients.

Most of the food comes from donations of nonperishable goods, Moore said. Maple View Farm and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market donate items to the students, Moore said.

Tippins said one of the most heartwarming memories she has from her work with TABLE is from last winter during a snowstorm.

“We were trying to distribute a lot of food quickly because school would be canceled for a few days,” Tippins said. “We went to one apartment, and the little girl turned to her sister and said, ‘See, I told you they would come.’”

city@dailytarheel.com

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