BREVARD — Transylvania County Schools’ “Back Pack Buddies Program” received a $2,500 boost from a health bar company in a Romanian region that shares the North Carolina county’s name.
Only Fruit Bar, based in Transylvania, Romania, recently donated $2,500 to the school system’s nutrition assistance initiative, making it possible for the program to add dozens more school children to the list of those receiving the weekly food, according to Carolyn A. Barton, director of child nutrition at Transylvania County Schools.
The Back Pack Buddies Program, in its sixth year with the school system, sends food packs home every Friday with more than 300 students who are considered to be in extreme need, and whose homes may lack sufficient food for them over a weekend’s time.
The program is coordinated by the Public Schools of North Carolina’s Department of Child Nutrition, and sponsored locally by MANNA Food Bank in Asheville, Change the World Relief Organization in Pisgah Forest, and community and individual donations. Members of Rotary International deliver the food packs to Transylvania County schools each week.
“Transylvania County Schools is delighted that our neighbors from the other Transylvania have reached out to our needy children,” Barton said in a news release. “Like all of our corporate partners, they recognize that healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are essential to a child’s physical and intellectual development.”
Only Fruit Bar’s donation coincides with the Romania-based company’s expansion into the United States market, said Steve Mangione, U.S. spokesperson for Only Fruit Bar.
He said it was a Google search that initially connected the two Transylvanias, as the company was looking for a way to start helping children in the U.S.
Robert Vasilescu, vice president of sales, marketing and distribution in the U.S., “stumbled upon this upon the Internet and read up on Transylvania County,” said Mangione.
“In researching, we found out about the school system. It just seemed very natural to link up with them,” he said. And, “When you Google ‘Transylvania County Schools,’ the Back Pack Buddies Program is very prominent.”
And so a Transylvania-to-Transylvania connection was born.
That name recognition and connection may also mean a new business opportunity for Transylvania County, since Only Fruit Bar executives are eyeing the area for regional sales and marketing offices for its new U.S. market, Mangione said.
It’s not just the names that are the same, Mangione said. Company executives have found the landscape in Transylvania County to be very similar to the rolling hills, forests and meadows in Transylvania, Romania.
He said the company opened stateside headquarters in New York and launched the products in the U.S. just a couple weeks ago. Currently, Only Fruit Bar products are only available in New York’s tri-state region, in specialty food shops and health food stores, as well as online, Mangione said.
But Only Fruit Bar is linking up with American distribution companies to start moving its product throughout the U.S., he said.
“(Transylvania County) is a good central location,” for sales in the southeast corridor, Mangione said, adding, “It’s still in the exploration stage.”
Less tentative is Only Fruit Bar’s dedication to continuing a relationship with Transylvania County Schools. Though Only Fruit Bar’s products have nuts in them and currently haven’t been approved for distribution throughout the school system, Mangione said the company wants to begin the approval process so the all-natural, healthy bars can be included in the Back Pack Buddies Program.
“Everything in there is all natural. There’s no additives of any kind,” he said. “You can say and spell all the ingredients on the labels of the health bars.”
Mangione said Only Fruit Bar also foresees making future donations to the school’s Back Pack Buddies Program.
“This is by no means going to be a one-time deal,” he said.