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Hilary Duff promotes ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ at Jenner Elementary

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

A great squealing clamor almost without end filled the gymnasium as actress/singer Hilary Duff — promoting a program that provides food for needy kids — paid a visit to Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts on the Near North Side Wednesday morning.

Among those dying to meet Duff was 9-year-old Daniel Hill, who said he’d like to marry her — perhaps not realizing she’s already taken.

“She’s a nice woman, and perfect,” said Hill, who is in the third grade. “She doesn’t curse.”

A lot of other folks at Jenner think Duff is “nice” too. She volunteers her time for “Blessings in a Backpack,” which provides a sack of food for low-income students when then go home each weekend during the school year. The program — headquartered in Louisville, Ky. — serves some 37,600 kids in 216 schools in the United States, Canada, Colombia and Haiti. Students at five schools in Chicago participate in the program.

Duff — sauntering into the gym on four-inch-high heels — spent part of her morning shoving boxes of mac and cheese, apple sauce and other goodies into bags for needy kids. She scribbled her signature on dozens of scraps of paper thrust toward her, gave an equal number of hugs and generally delighted the 200 or so kids who got to meet her.

“I know some of you know me from the movies and from some of my music,” Duff told the crowd. “I wanted to let you know that I was just like you, going to school. I had a dream: I wanted to act and I wanted to sing. I worked really hard and made it happen, and you guys can do the same thing.”

Approximately 150 Jenner kids — many of them homeless — benefit from the program, said the school’s principal, Zelma Woodson.

“It’s gotten to the point where if [the food] isn’t passed out or if we might let it slip our minds a little bit, before the end of the day [the kids] are going to come looking for their blessings,” Woodson said.

Duff said that while it’s important to remember needy kids around the world, those in the U.S. shouldn’t be forgotten.

“Obviously most people think about feeding people in Africa, and I think that’s really important, too, but I don’t know how we can continue to help people if we don’t fix our problems here,” Duff said.

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