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Holiday delivery brings cheer to Rock Hill students

Since becoming a single father two years ago Ruben Lewis has been working hard to provide for his children - RJ, 10, and Chelsey and Robert, both 7.

But money is tight. And feeding everyone isn't easy.

They appreciate any extra help.

That's why the Lewis family is so thankful for the Christmas Eve knock on the door.

It was a UPS driver delivering a package for each child - a gift basket of apples, pears, oranges, cheeses and summer sausage.

"That was a big surprise," Ruben Lewis said. "It was really great."

The Lewis children were among 620 students who got a special delivery from the Rock Hill school district's Back the Pack program that morning.

The permanent fundraiser and food drive sends needy children home from school on Fridays with backpack's full of nonperishable food.

School officials launched the program after a study three years ago showed that 1 in 17 Rock Hill students ate very little outside of school.

It serves elementary and middle schoolers, but plans are in the works for a high school effort, said Serena Williams, Rock Hill schools community services coordinator.

"Back the Pack really does help out," said Lewis, 31.

It's a supplement that Lewis said bolsters what he's trying to accomplish as a parent.

"Being a single father is rough," Lewis said. "Just trying to adapt, is hard. My main focus is to make sure they're happy and they have what they need to succeed."

After buying enough to stuff backpacks for all of the students on the list this year, Back the Pack had money left over, Williams said.

"Our donors have always asked what kids in Back the Pack do over the holidays for extra food," she said.

So she and colleague Ana Glosson searched.

"We don't get to send home enough for the whole holiday season," Glosson said. "We wanted to send them something special."

They settled on Hickory Farms, an Ohio-based specialty foods company that ships gift baskets across the country.

After a week of negotiating, Williams said the price dropped from $60 per basket to $30.

Delivery trucks dropped off the packages on Christmas Eve.

The students and their families had no idea they were coming.

"I was glad to be a part of it," Glosson said. "I would love to have seen one of the kids when they got it."

When the package came, the Lewis children were delighted.

"It makes me happy that people send food and fruit, because sometimes we don't have money for that stuff," said RJ, a fourth-grader at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary.

"It's a great school district," Ruben said. "I really appreciate what they do for us and the other children in the area. Without them, a lot of children would go without."