Mississippi 9-year-old donates $1,200 to student food program from selling handmade earrings

Published 6:15 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

Kenzi Breland is a fourth grader at Poplarville Upper Elementary who handcrafts her own earrings and sells them for $2 a pair on her Facebook page (KB Designs).

She began making earrings from scratch since Christmas of 2022 and began selling them online and in the Poplarville community in early January. Kenzi made more than $1,200, and what is heartwarming about her story is that none of the money was kept by her. Every cent is and will be used towards funding food for students in the Backpack Buddies program.

Before we learn about Kenzi’s story, first we must learn about the Backpack Buddies program, established in the fall of 2014. Backpack Buddies is a nonprofit organization that focuses on supplying weekend meals to students in the Poplarville school district with funds solely from donations and grants. The three main heads of the program are President Carol Williams, Vice President Debra Smith, and Kenzi’s mother and High School Coordinator, Erin Breland. In November of 2022, the program had capped at providing 226 students with weekend meals. Most recently, on the February 18th weekend they serviced a total of 179 kids. The program deals with children ages 5 up to 15 years olds.

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“Everything we have is a donation,’ said Williams. “We don’t get somebody sending us money… nobody else does, it’s people like Kenzi that decide they’re going to do something.”

Other avenues that the program goes through are local food drives but they mostly rely on grant acceptance to pay for their food.

A student ends up on the Backpack Buddies program entirely on a teacher and/or school administration referral. Erin Breland as high school coordinator for Backpack Buddies and high school math teacher at PHS identifies kids at her school that she believes will benefit from this program. Other coordinators do the same at PLE, PUE, and MSP. Each school has forms that are sent out to the potential student’s parent or guardian. It describes the program in greater detail and asks if they’d like to enroll at no cost to the parent or guardian. Each student stays with the program for the entire year. Williams and Smith and volunteers of the Backpack Program like to keep the names of the students they serve anonymous.

“We don’t know who the kids are, we don’t want to know,” said Smith.

The only ones who know are the coordinators.

In each weekend bag, there are two breakfast items, four entrees, and four snacks, all fresh and name brand items. The meals are easy to make, especially for an elementary student, and extra items like oatmeal are provided for the growing high schoolers. Other items include beef jerky, Takis for the high schoolers, boxes of cereal, Spaghettios, Chef Boyaredee, Roman Noodles, Mac and Cheese cups with fruits and veggies.

“Whatever we put in that bag has to be something that a 5-year-old can fix for themselves,” said Smith.

Preparation is done on Thursday and on Friday the teachers send the bags to their classrooms and hand them out to their students, ready to go for the weekend. Every student in the Poplarville school district has access to school breakfast and lunch. The Backpack Buddies’ mission is to feed those for the weekend.

Upon request from the middle school, the program also provides a hygiene kit to its students.

“We’ve realized there’s a lot of kids in our district that really don’t have anything over the weekend, and they can’t wait to get back to school just to eat,” said Breland.

“That’s our whole mission, to feed the kids through the weekend,” said Smith.

Backpack Buddies is also a source for students to earn community service, several have even come back from college to partake in community service hours.

Kenzi has always had a heart to give back. Last year, she and her friends would all make rubber band bracelets at a local park and sell them there, and all the proceeds were going towards Mississippi St. Jude Research Hospital. She ended up making only $20 that day, which she felt wasn’t enough. In the upcoming year, she shifted her focus to a more familiar, Backpack Buddies program. Kenzi brings in big business, her mom said once Kenzie got her first set of beads and made them all, they sold out the next day off Facebook. In six weeks, Kenzi with her own supplies made over a $1,000 profit selling her earrings online at KB Designs for $2. Her goal was to raise enough money to feed the 197 groups of kids for one week. She’s shattered that goal, making enough for two weeks.

Kanzi’s why for giving back is simple, “I just wanted to help out the Backpack Buddies,” she said. “Because I know and I’ve seen how many kids get Backpack Buddies from my school and I thought if it’s like this at other schools then it’s a lot of Backpack Buddies that have to be served.”

She said when she gets older, she wants to probably be what her mom is, a Program Coordinator and a Math Teacher. But now, at nine years old Kenzi is an artist, creating earrings every night after school which take her just two minutes to put together. She was reluctant to add that her mom and younger sister help with the process, but they all pitch in somehow in Kenzi’s creative process.

Kenzi says she enjoys the attraction her earrings have gained so far “People just want to keep buying them,” she said.

Anyone wanting to assist in the Backpack Buddies program on their journey may follow them on Facebook at Backpack Buddies of Poplarville and follow Kenzi’s earring page at KB Designs.