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Backpacks giving boost to single father of five

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Jan. 24, 2011 at 6 p.m.
Updated Jan. 23, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

Mathew Sheffel and his five children, Lindsey, 8, and 5-year-old quadruplets, Alyssa, Kole, Kailey and Landon, participate  in the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent backpack program at Vickers Elementary School. Backpacks fill with nutritious snacks and other food are sent home with each child every Friday. The Food Bank has 370 students enrolled in the program in Victoria, Calhoun, Matagorda and DeWitt counties.

To say Mathew Sheffel has his hands full is an understatement.

The single parent of five, an 8-year-old and 5-year-old quadruplets, is not only raising his children alone, but attending Victoria College studying to become an occupational therapist.

Thanks to the backpack program of the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, Sheffel has some help in feeding his crew on the weekends.

"It's meant a lot to us," Sheffel said. "I live on a tight income, so the snacks really help. This backpack program has been great. When you have five kids, it adds up."

And it's adding up to assistance for a lot of children in the Crossroads.

Currently, 370 students take part in the backpack program in Victoria, Calhoun, Matagorda and DeWitt counties and funding will soon become available to expand the program to Jackson County, said Ramona Hollan of the Food Bank.

Students in need in Victoria are identified through the school district's Kidz Connection.

Backpacks are filled with food that children take home on weekends. The food is child-friendly, nonperishable, easily consumed and vitamin fortified, said Hollan.

The backpacks include two one-gallon plastic bags filled with individual servings of such items as fruit, pudding, cereal, milk, juice, and crackers among other items.

The milk is shelf-stable that doesn't have to be refrigerated, said Hollan.

Jars of peanut butter, enough for the entire family, have recently been added to the backpacks once a month. A full-size box of cereal will also soon be added monthly, said Hollan.

Sheffel, 31, said the individual serving sizes also help when the family takes weekend trips.

"When they come home from school, they go for the juice boxes, apple sauce or fruit cups first," he said.

"They are good snacks," said 8-year-old third-grader Lindsey Sheffel. "I like the peanut butter best."

The 5-year-old quadruplets - Alyssa, Kailey, Kole and Landon - are all kindergartners at Vickers Elementary School.

"That's one of the things they've come to expect when they get home," Sheffel said. "I'll take the snacks out and put the canned items in a certain spot, so they know where the snacks are so when they get home from school they know where to get them. I don't have to tell them what they can have and where to get them. It's taught them some responsibility."

Mary Post of Kidz Connection has also seen a positive impact from the program.

"We've had several teachers brag that the students in the program are doing better and it's a positive thing," Post said. "The extra attention they are getting and the food for the weekend has also improved attendance and their grades."

Rita Adame, parent liaison for the program as well as attendance clerk at Vickers, echoed Post's observations.

"If they don't bring their backpacks back on Monday, they don't get food on Friday, so that also helps," Adame said.

At Vickers, 26 students take part in the program.

The city of Victoria is also involved, awarding the Food Bank enough community block grant money to serve 83 students for the school year, including those at Vickers Elementary.

Businesses, service organizations and churches have donated backpacks and even helped pack the food for the backpacks.

Sheffel, a 12-year military veteran, also praised the parents and staff at Vickers.

"The people at this school have given me the shirt off their backs trying to help me," he said.

Adame deflected praise back at Sheffel.

"It's people like him that make it all worthwhile," she said.



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