Teacher feeds hungry children, gives students a “life lesson”

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SKYLINE, Ala. (WHNT) - Help feed hungry children.

That's not usually part of a teacher's job description.

One Tennessee Valley educator though, wants to make sure no kids in her school ever go home without enough to eat on the weekends. She's even found a way to get her students involved in the effort.

Deborah Helms, the family and consumer sciences teacher at Skyline School in Jackson County, calls the "Backpack Buddies" program something "near and dear to her heart." She started up the program just a few years ago, still juggling her traditional responsibilities.

The mission was clear: make sure children get fed.

In its second year, Backpack Buddies now runs solely on donations. Students are a big part of the effort; helping to pack the bags which, every week on Fridays, are discretely passed to low-income kids, on their way out the door.

Abby West is one of the students who gives up her time to fill bags with apple sauce, milk and peanut butter. She feels great about helping her needy classmates but also because she gets community service hours that look great on college applications.

Mostly though, West enjoys helping Helms.

"She is a great teacher. She cares for all of her students like they're her own kids," Helms said.

To help keep the Backpack Buddies program running, West thought Helms could use some extra money. She nominated her for a Tools for Teacher's award and when WHNT News 19 showed up to surprise Helms, she was thrilled.

"This will buy a truckload of supplies!" Helms exclaimed. She then turned to West, embracing her. "I want a hug! Thank you so much sweetheart!"

West replied with a huge embrace and an "I love you." "I love you too," Helms replied.

Helms also showed us around her packing room and sure enough, the shelves were looking pretty sparse. "At Christmas we put thirty items in each bag," Helms explained, gesturing to the now nearly-empty boxes laid out on long tables.

The prize money will help to refill those boxes and keep Helms' message of compassion, one that goes beyond the books, going strong.

"I think it's more than just teaching them academics. It's helping them to be prepared for life," Helms said.