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Cumberlands’s Physician Assistant students feed local children through Backpack Club


Many of the University of the Cumberlands’ (UC) Physician Assistant (PA) students chose a field in medicine because they wished to help people. So it is no surprise that the PA students have been quietly serving the community for more than a year by providing food to children in need through a program called Backpack Club.
Each week, PA students gather to pack bags of easy-to-open and easy-to-prepare foods for community elementary children who have been identified as at-risk for not having enough food to eat over the weekend. Some of these children are believed to eat only the breakfast and lunch they are served at school throughout the week, with the food from the Backpack Club feeding that child over the weekend.
“We are trying to train competent, caring, compassionate members of the health care team and the community,” says Dr. Eddie Perkins, director of the PA program.
“Not only to be good PAs but to be good contributors in the community, and that’s what they’re doing so beautifully,” adds Dr. Sonia Young, associate director and academic coordinator of the PA program.
The students are taking their training seriously. Despite putting in 40+ hours a week in class and study, plus the hours caring for their families (most of the students are married, some with children) and homes, and only a handful of weeks off during the two years they are in the program, the students make time each week to gather, sort and deliver food to the Family Resource/Youth Services Center in Williamsburg, where the food is then distributed to area schools. They also spent $800 of their own money at the beginning of the school year to buy school supplies and backpacks for 16 children.
While the time put into Backpack Club is something the PA students find well worth sacrificing, the strain of funding the food mostly falls on them as well, something that they gladly do…when they are able.
“It is a humbling experience to realize you have nothing to give,” says Kendra Neeley, PA Cohort 3 student. “We think, ‘what do we do now?’”
“Because the Backpack Club’s food stores come primarily from donations throughout the community, it is not always certain that there will be enough food for every student in need. Our goal as a group is to help the Backpack Club by collecting donations from sources in the community and around the University of the Cumberlands’ campus. We also organize fundraisers so we can shop for items that are needed,” said the PA students in a letter sent to organizations around the community.
The PA Backpack Club currently feeds 24 children, yet there is still a waiting list of children who qualify for the program. At the time, however, donations and their own contributions can barely sustain the ones they have. They are hoping their letter will reach many in the community who have no knowledge of Backpack Club.  But until then, the students will continue using their own resources to provide.
“Without the caring students at the Cumberlands, the food would not be available for the children at risk of going hungry,” says Tammy Stephens from the Family Resource Center. “The families really do rely on this supplemental food source and are grateful for the help that it provides.”
Those interested in helping the UC Physician Assistant Backpack Club can call the PA department at (606) 539-4398, or write 7527 College Station Drive, Williamsburg, KY, 40769.
The Master of Physician Assistant Studies program at University of the Cumberlands is offered under a cohort system with course work to be completed over twenty-four months. Of the 101 credit hours in the program, sixty-one hours are earned through didactics coursework in a traditional classroom and laboratory setting. All didactics coursework takes place on the university campus in the Forcht Medical Wing of the Correll Science Complex. The remaining forty hours are earned during the second year in the program through eight supervised clinical rotations in the field.