Editor's note: This story appeared Nov. 14, 2010
ROCK HILL — On her way to meet with Rock Hill schools Superintendent Lynn Moody two years ago, Sue Kutz did not know their conversation would change her life.
Kutz learned about a study that found hundreds of children across the city left school on Fridays and ate little or nothing until they returned on Monday.
"They would have stomach aches, head aches," Kutz said. "They would have to go see the school nurse. It was affecting the way they performed in class.
"We were amazed that was happening in our home town. We had never thought about that."
Kutz, 58, became a full-time volunteer and has been instrumental in developing "Back the Pack," a permanent fundraiser and food drive that sends malnourished children home on weekends with back pack's full of food.
She coordinates the program's marketing and fundraising. She is primary spokesman - and she donates money.
"She has been our flag carrier and our community champion," Rock Hill schools community services coordinator Serena Williams said. "Her service is phenomenal."
Cosmetics giant L'Oreal took notice. The company recently named Kutz one of 10 "Women of Worth," in a competition highlighting "tireless advocates for service and change in their local communities."
Anyone can visit the company's website to read about the women and vote. The winner gets $25,000 for her charity.
That would feed another 208 Rock Hill children, Kutz said.
About 650 elementary and middle school students receive back packs of food - about half of all who need them, according to school officials. And they believe more students across York County are going hungry during the recession.
In the last two years, all of the county's four school districts have added back-pack programs.
Fort Mill, Clover and York schools partner with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, a regional food bank that donates to agencies feeding the hungry in South and North Carolina.
The Rock Hill district runs "Back the Pack" out of its Applied Technology Center, where high school students enrolled in a warehouse distribution course pack and ship the food to schools.
Teachers pass out bags discreetly, visiting classes while kids are at lunch or recess. At some schools students are called out of class to receive back packs.
Educators suspected students were malnourished for some time before the program started. Children would take food from classmates during lunch. Some would ask cafeteria workers for seconds and thirds. Others would wrap up part of their meal to take home.
"Once you hear some of the stories of how it impacts students, you can't forget that," Kutz said. "Everybody that knows about it seems to want to help ... We do need to accept this responsibility as a community and help provide this basic need."
Kutz was among 35 finalists in the Woman of Worth competition. For making the top 10, Back the Pack got $5,000. Plus L'Oreal is sending her to New York in December for a ceremony to crown a winner.
"I'm very humbled by the honor," she said. "But the important part is what it can do for the program. People aren't voting for me, they're voting for Back the Pack."
Women of worth
To learn about L'Oreal's competition, read about contestants and vote, visit: www.womenofworth.com.
Want to help Back the Pack?
There are several ways to contribute to Rock Hill schools' Back the Pack program:
Sponsor a hungry student: $10 per month/$120 per year.
Make checks payable to: Rock Hill School District Foundation, Post Office Drawer 12286, Rock Hill, SC 29731
Credit cards are accepted at the district office, 660 N. Anderson Road.
Donations are tax deductable.
Donate food: Breakfast bars, cereal, sandwich crackers, fruit cups, dried fruit, nuts, beef jerky, fruit juice boxes, 12-ounce bottled water.
Volunteer to pack food at the material and handling warehouse at The Applied Technology Center, 2399 W. Main St., between 8:30 and 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month.
For information, call 803-980-2005