Snack in a Backpack holds Mardi Gras event at Merciers Orchard

Community, News

Bringing a taste of New Orleans to the North Georgia Mountains was one goal of Snack in a Backpack (SIAB) organization. Lots of good food, festive music, and camaraderie of fellow Fannin County citizens gathering together to raise money for the SIAB program were a few other goals. Mercier Orchards graciously donated their facility for the gallant evening.

Each weekday Fannin County children are given meals at breakfast and lunch. On weekends many children who rely on school meals might go without nourishing food or not have enough to eat. Snack in a Backpack volunteers begin packing bags with non-perishable, healthy food on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. to ensure children have something to take home for the weekend.

Lee Walker, Dr. & Mrs. Michael Gwatney, Karl Wilson

School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney said while standing in line for the buffet at the nights event, “The hardest decision I ever have to make is to close a school. If I have to delay a school opening, that means a child doesn’t get breakfast. Or if I have close the school for the day, the child does not get breakfast or lunch.”

Guests were treated with a wonderful array of foods on the buffet table cooked by chefs at Merciers Orchards. Food choices included chicken gumbo, shrimp and sausage jambalaya, and black-eyed peas among other snacks and salads. Popular choices of Louisiana cooks during Mardi Gras.

Desserts were made by local bakery artisans at Chester’s,Tonia Ross, and Sweet Shoppe of the South. Ross provided a two-layer sheet cake, Chester’s donated two pies, and Sweet Shoppe delivered cupcakes. All sweets definitely delighted the palates of the guests by the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ being heard in the room.

Rollin’ Blues Band

Attendees visited with each other, made bids for silent auction items on display in one of Merciers sales room while listening to Rollin’ Bones Band playing R & B, rock, and soul music. Winners of generous bids walked away with beautiful prizes and the funds go to Snack in a Backpack.

Mardi Gras themed Bringin’ the Blues to Blue Ridge was the 10th annual fundraiser for Snack in a Backpack.



Event table sponsors were:

  • A. D. Frazier Family.
  • America’s Home Place.
  • Blue Ridge Coin Shop.
  • Dickey-McCay Insurance.
  • United Community Bank.
  • Woodman Life (Richard York).


Volunteers are always welcome to help prepare the weekly bags or to deliver to designated schools. For more information contact Angela Huffstetler, program director at 706-851-8190 or

All donations are tax deductible. Personal and corporate donations help keep this much needed program successful and are sincerely appreciated. Donations can be made by cash, check or PayPal.
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Rotary, Lodging Association help Open Arms, others at luncheon


BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During their weekly luncheon Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Blue Ridge collected $230 to give to Open Arms after a fire destroyed the organization’s home late Sunday night.

Members donated various increments  during Rotary’s Giving Tuesday, and 100 percent of the proceeds went directly to Open Arms to assist with recovery efforts.

Amanda Davis, president of Rotary Club of Blue Ridge, further announced Rotary had already given a $1,000 donation to Open Arms on Monday.

Open Arms will also receive a $5,000 gift from the Blue Ridge Lodging Association (BRLA). C.J. Stam with BRLA announced the donation at the luncheon.

“So (BRLA) heard about the (Open Arms) fire. That night, immediately, we all started talking and were like ‘We’ve got to do something,'” Stam explained. “We pulled together $5,000 additional dollars that we’re going to be giving to Open Arms. As well as individual companies – member companies – of the Lodging Association have already raised another $2,000 on top of that we will be giving to Open Arms.”

Snack in a Backpack received a $4,000 donation from Rotary Club of Blue Ridge and a $7,915 donation from the Blue Ridge Lodging Association (BRLA). From left, C.J. Stam (BRLA), Snack volunteer Toots Green, Snack Program Director Angela Huffstetler, Jackie Self (Rotary), Amanda Davis (Rotary) and Greg Spenser (BRLA).

Additionally, Rotary presented Angela Huffstetler, program director of Snack in a Backpack, with a $4,000 check. Huffstetler announced Snack in a Backpack has packed over 5,000 bags and served 15,000 meals to an estimated 375 to 400 Fannin County School System students. Started in 2009 after it was realized that many students were going without adequate nourishment after leaving school for the week on Fridays, Snack provides food for students to take home them on weekends.

Snack also received a generous donation from the Lodging Association as Stam, of BRLA, presented Huffstetler with a $7,915 check.

FLAG (Fannin Literacy Action Group) received a $2,192 donation from Rotary. Teresa Ross, of FLAG, explained that the non-profit organization partners with North Georgia Technical College to offer GED, college preparation and English as a second language courses, among others, for students from age 16 and older.

Rotary donated $1,000 to Joshua’s Dream Ranch, an animal-assisted therapy ranch near Blairsville that specializes in helping special-needs children and children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. “They (the children) come out to the ranch to be cowboy for the day,” Debbie Lynn, development director of Joshua’s Dream Ranch, explained of the therapeutic value of the ranch. “I appreciate your help and willingness to help.”

Mountain Education Center (MEC) received $1,000 from the Rotary Club of Blue Ridge. From left, Charlie Edmondson (Rotary), MEC counselor Chris Martinez, MEC student Makenzie Ledford, Rotary Club President Amanda Davis and Ed Wolpet (Rotary).

Mountain Education Center was presented a $1,000 check from the Rotary. Chris Martinez, a counselor at the Fannin Mountain Education Charter High School, explained the organization consists of 19 different sites throughout the north Georgia area and its goal is to help students receive their high school diploma. Martinez said the organization provides flexible schedules to its students and hopes to graduate 25 students at its Fannin location this school year. Martinez brought with her one of the school’s students, Makenzie Ledford, who is working toward her diploma and plans to attend Roane State in Harriman, Tennessee, after graduation to pursue a dental hygienist certification. “I’m very thankful to you guys,” Ledford told the Rotary Club members.

Shop with a Cop receives $1,000 from Rotary Club of Blue Ridge. From left, FCSD Officer Darvin Couch, Pam Fink, Amanda Davis, FCSD Officer Jim Burrell.

Officers Darvin Couch and Jim Burrell, of the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department, received a $1,000 donation from Rotary for Shop with a Cop. Officer Couch stated the program is in its fourth year as it provides area children with $100 each to spend on gifts for themselves or others. Couch said last year the program helped 70 children from 31 different families. This year, the program will take place on Dec. 9. Couch explained much of the thrill he has seen in the past has come from watching what the children buy, not only for themselves but for their families. “Their money wasn’t all for them,” Couch stated.

Lastly, Ferst Foundation, an organization designed to promote childhood literacy, was given a $5,000 donation from Rotary. The foundation sends one book a month to children under the age of five whose parents or legal guardians register their child for the program. To date, Ferst Foundation has provided over 30,000 books, at no charge, to children in Fannin County, according to June Slesser with the foundation. Currently, 407 books per month are being given to children in Fannin, and Slesser stated just under 1,000 children are eligible to receive a book per month from the foundation.


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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping. - Dedicated to serve the needs of the community. Provide a source of real news-Dependable Information-Central to the growth and success of our Communities. Strive to encourage, uplift, warn, entertain, & enlighten our readers/viewers- Honest-Reliable-Informative.

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