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A Catawba County Social Services program that serves as an ongoing, immediate source of food for students who often go hungry, during weekends and extended breaks from school, and a Green Vendor Exhibition designed to shine a spotlight on existing and potential vendors that specialize in providing recycled and environmentally-friendly products and services, have been named winners of 2012 National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards.

The NACo Achievement Awards program, now in its 41st year, gives national recognition to significant and innovative programs that improve county organization, management and service delivery. Catawba County has won 194 awards over the history of the NACo program and has been honored during each of the program's 41 years.

One of the winning programs is called The Backpack Program for Children. It is “aimed to improve school attendance for children living in poverty, improve educational standing, provide additional resources for the needs of families, and engage the community in giving back to families struggling in the current economic climate,” said Amanda Freeland, Social Worker III with Catawba County Social Services.
The Backpack Program has included the following initiatives:

• It provides an immediate linkage to food for families struggling with food insecurity due to a recent change in the family’s ability to be self-sufficient and a lack of economic support (i.e. parent job loss, loss of vehicle, additional members of the family living with one another, etc.)
• It strengthens collaboration between schools, businesses, and organizations throughout the community
• It identifies families struggling with additional needs and connects with appropriate resources
• It improves communication between organizations serving those in poverty and those who are eligible for available programs and resources
• It raises awareness of the needs of children living in poverty among educational staff
• It focuses on additional forms of support children need to ensure school success

“The Backpack Program served approximately 980 students throughout the 2010-2011 school year, utilizing the private donations of individuals, churches, and businesses,” Freeland said. “Twenty elementary schools actively participated in the program, averaging 50 backpacks distributed each week per school. Throughout the school year, additional interest from area churches made it possible to host food pantries for students within two high schools and three middle schools.”

The program’s partnership with the Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministries has limited the cost of each participant to approximately $100 for an entire school year. Each bag includes seven meals and 2-3 snack items. During long weekends and school breaks, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, extra food items are sent home with participants.

“The program has facilitated strong, sustained partnerships between twenty elementary schools, community agencies, businesses, and the faith community and the program simply would not exist without the donors and volunteers at each school”, Freeland added. “Community members are engaged in 940 annual volunteer hours with the program. Community interest and support has resulted in 100% funding for the program through donations.”

Catawba County’s Green Vendor Fair, facilitated by the County’s Purchasing Division and held on July 27, 2011, also won a NACO Achievement Award for 2012.

“The purpose of the event was to shine a spotlight on existing and potential vendors that specialize in providing recycled and environmentally-friendly products and services,” said Debbie Anderson, Catawba County Purchasing Manager. “The County’s Buy Recycled Policy, implemented in 2007, requires the procurement division to educate employees on green products and services. Procurement staff began planning the event in May 2011, researched event locations, established vendor fee guidelines and developed a list of potential vendors with a focus on our local Catawba County vendors. The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce assisted in advertising the event to its membership.”

Catawba County’s Green Vendor Exhibition was unique because it was strictly for governmental employees and because vendors only exhibited their green products, materials and services. A variety of products and services were on display, including office supplies, office furniture, printing/promotional products, janitorial supplies, vehicles, maintenance/facilities, copiers and recycling services. Since a fee was not charged to vendors and sponsorship was voluntary, the event gave an opportunity to small, local businesses to reach a large audience with minimal expense.

In addition to County employees, local and state government employees within the county and neighboring counties were invited to attend. The event was not open to the general population. A total of 41 vendors participated, with 100 attendees.

“The event was an educational tool to broaden awareness of county employees and other governmental agencies in the area of the green products and services available in our region,” Anderson added. “The County worked with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the event to vendors,”

"NACo awards demonstrate Catawba County's continuing effort to find innovative and creative ways to deliver the very best services to our citizens," said Kitty Barnes, Chair of the Catawba County Board of Commissioners. "My fellow commissioners and I are very proud of this national recognition."

The NACo Achievement Award will be formally presented to Catawba County at the Association’s annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from July 15-19, 2012.