Kelley, Martha Earnhardt see fruits of program Dale Jr. Foundation supports

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — The backpack filled with food that fourth-grader Briana Sykes has taken home every Friday since September not only supplies bodily nourishment, it represents peace of mind.
“It helps our family,” she said.
Briana’s mother, Adriana Sykes, said the family was worried when her husband got laid off last fall. But they were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the backpacks started coming.
“It’s enough to help get us through the weekend and do a little bit extra,” Adriana Sykes said. “It means a lot to a lot of people, but for our family alone it helps tremendously.
“Someone that’s not struggling doesn’t realize how important that bag is every Friday.”
Briana is just one of more than 300 students — about 80 percent of the student body — at Jackson Park Elementary School who receives a backpack stuffed with everything from juice pouches to macaroni and cheese to granola bars.
Blessings in a Backpack, a national nonprofit organization, provides the backpacks for students at the school to take home each weekend through a partnership with the Dale Jr. Foundation.
Kelley Earnhardt, vice president of the foundation and sister of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and her grandmother, Martha Earnhardt, stopped by Jackson Park on Wednesday to witness the success of the program.
“I know that it helps put food in your bellies so that you can think better, think smart and grow up to be smart, intelligent people,” Kelley Earnhardt said. “We’re happy to be able to do that and use Dale Jr.’s popularity to help raise funds for Blessings in a Backpack.”
Kelley Earnhardt said growing up and attending school in Kannapolis, she’s thrilled to be able to make a difference at Jackson Park.
“We’re excited to partner with a school in our area, in our hometown where it really matters,” she said.
Adriana Sykes said she’s proud the Earnhardts haven’t forgotten their roots and still support programs like Blessings in a Backpack.
“I just think it’s the greatest thing they could do,” she said. “It was fantastic to finally meet the ones behind it.”
Blessings in a Backpack founder Stan Curtis said it only takes $80 to feed a child for an entire year and community partnerships, like the one with the Dale Jr. Foundation, help feed more than 41,000 students each year.
“We have a lot of partnerships and we are so grateful for the very high-profile people in this country that are leading by example,” Curtis said. “It’s not something they are going to do, it’s something they are doing.”
Curtis launched Blessings in a Backpack six years ago to help combat childhood hunger. Better test scores, improved reading skills, positive behavior, improved health and increased attendance have been attributed to the program.
Principal Beth Marshall said being able to provide meals for students to take home has made a tremendous difference.
“Kids need to be nourished from a nutritional standpoint to be able to come to school ready to learn,” she said. “We are so blessed beyond belief to have this program.”
Marshall said when Curtis first approached her about initiating the program at Jackson Park, she wasn’t familiar with it.
“He told me, ‘It’s not my passion to feed kids, it’s my obsession to feed kids,’ ” she said. “And I said, ‘We’ll make a good team, because it’s my obsession to educate kids.’ ”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.