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People Helping People expands to Westside Elementary in Hernando

SPRING HILL — People Helping People's Weekend Blessings Program has expanded to Westside Elementary School this year.

People Helping People is a Hernando County volunteer program, funded by donations, which works to fight hunger in people of all ages.

The Weekend Blessings program provides food to children at participating schools, so they do not go hungry and can return to school each Monday ready to learn.

About 85 percent of the students at Westside, the latest addition to the program, are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Eleven students are participating so far, said elementary assistant Pam Kasten. "We're just starting this."

People Helping People "came to our school and said, 'we're willing to help more needy families.' They bring enough food for the child and their siblings for the weekend," Kasten said.

The school identifies children who would benefit from the program and invites them to pick up backpacks filled with food to take home. The filled backpacks are dropped off by People Helping People volunteers on Friday and the empty ones collected on Monday.

The foods items include cereal bars, toaster pastries, canned chicken or tuna, beans and wieners, ravioli, cheese or peanut butter crackers, raisins, nuts, apple sauce, Jell-O or pudding, canned soups, ramen noodles, juices and milk boxes.

"I think it's great," Kasten said. "I'm glad to be a part of it; to see the kids' faces when they get it. They're so excited. They say, "Ooooh, it's Friday. We get our backpacks!" Kasten noted that parents are very appreciative, too.

"You wouldn't think that many people are in need, but there's more than you think," she said. "It really is a blessing."