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Optimist Charles Dixon receives a $500 contribution for the Triple M Back Pack Program from Alicia Ratcliff of Marshall’s Bancorp South.

The Noon Optimist Club of Marshall met Wednesday, Dec. 18, in Hutchins Hall of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Marshall. President Le Ila Dixon convened with the ringing of the bell and Optimist Richard Magrill led in prayer followed by the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag and the recitation of the Optimist’s creed.

Optimist Le Ila welcomed all, especially our visitor, Bank Officer Alicia Ratcliff from Bancorp South.

Alicia’s presence provided an occasion to celebrate the work of the Triple M backpack program which the Noon Optimists began ten years ago in 2010.

“One in four children in East Texas,” Le Ila noted, “is food insecure according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They are not sure where their next meal will come from. Many depend on the meal program at school for most or all of their daily nutrition and fast or have little to eat in the evenings and on weekends.”

Designed to fill the gap which occurs on weekends and holidays, the Triple M Back Packs (7 to 10 pounds) are handed out to kids at the end of each school week filled with nutritious food to see them through until the next regular school day with its resumption of breakfast and lunch.

Optimist Richard Magrill asked about how holiday weekends are handled. Optimist Charles Dixon, president of the community board which enlists participation from workers and sponsors, replied that “additional food is added to the packs whenever holidays will intervene before school meals resume.”

“The program has provided meals for up to 150 students, supporting their education by helping them overcome a background of poverty and arrive at school on Monday ready to learn.” Back in 2010, the director of health services at MISD noted that “school attendance improved immediately for students receiving meals. Our school officials saw improvement also in their interactions with peers and in their academic success,” Dixon added.

“We started with one school that first year, but the next fall the food was offered to all MISD elementary schools and has continued since then, in cooperation with the East Texas Food Bank which provides reduced price food,” he said.

But the program could not continue without local financial and volunteer support.

“All the money for this program has come from Marshall and Marshall has been generous in allowing us to know at the beginning of a new school year that we already have the money that we need for the whole year. That is why we are so grateful to have Alicia Ratcliff with us today representing one of our supporters,” ” President Le Ila emphasized.

Alicia then presented a check for $500 to Charles, saying that “we at Bancorp South are happy to support organizations in Marshall that are making a difference in our community.”

“We are so grateful to Bancorp South for its community spirit, and to Woodforest National Bank, The Turney Foundation, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Central Baptist Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church and East Texas Baptist University for their contributions and help with deliveries,” Dixon said.

Optimist Richard reminded the group that only last week, MISD Senior Counselor Suzan Harrison spoke of the importance of the Back Pack program and the food needs that it meets. She highlighted, “the opportunities it offers to the National Honor Society students with whom I work allowing them a chance to give back to the Marshall community by assisting with the program.”

The club also enjoyed a special “present” from Optimists Richard Magrill and John Fortune — a 10-minute video produced using John’s excellent photographs of our birthday party for foster kids held back in October. After the video there was a brief presentation by Richard on three Christmas nativities (two from Malawi and one from Turkey) followed by the sharing of nativity ornaments. (Richard said that they were an encouragement for club members to collect and display nativities; Optimist Michele Fuller whispered to him, “I don’t need any encouragement; I’m already collecting them!”

The meeting ended with a brief tour of some of the 300+ nativities on display in Hutchins Hall and a drawing for a gold-finished triptych nativity and the two poinsettias on the podium.

Club members shared wishes for “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New” as they departed, remembering that their next meeting would not be until Jan. 8, 2020.