Backpack program feeds kids over weekend

PLYMOUTH — 25 students at Menominee Elementary School have been eating a little more over the weekends since November, thanks to a national non-profit program called “Blessings in a Backpack.”
Chris Garner and Ellen Stillson, two local moms, decided to begin the Blessings program at Menominee this year, with principal Michael Dunn’s approval. Each Friday, Garner and Stillson fill 25 backpacks with two breakfast items, two juice pouches, two lunches, and two snacks, and deliver the backpacks to the kids.
“People don’t realize how many of our children go without,” said second grade teacher Kathy Hunt. “It’s so great to see (students) have a smile when they go home on Friday. (The backpacks) give them a feeling that they are special and someone is thinking about them.”
Students must be on the free or reduced lunch program to qualify to get a backpack. Using these guidelines, 60 percent of Menominee students qualify — but so far, donations cover only 25. These 25 were identified as most in need by the school’s guidance counselor. The cost to feed one student for an entire school year is $80. Garner and Stillson have secured donations for the program by word of mouth and sending out letters to Menominee teachers, but their goal is to obtain larger donations from local businesses or corporations. Eventually, the two women would like to be able to do the program in each of Plymouth’s elementary schools and at Riverside Intermediate School.
“The whole purpose of us doing (this) is to feed kids,” said Stillson. “We both have kids, and it breaks my heart to think that they would be hungry over the weekend.”
The food for the backpacks is purchased once a month from Walmart, since Blessings in a Backpack partners with them. Garner said that she and Stillson purchase food from a specific menu provided by the organization — usually generic brands in order to keep costs low.
“It’s stuff that is easy for kids to eat without parental supervision, and non-perishable,” said Garner.
“What we would really love is for someone to come up with a fresh fruit donation, so we can provide fruit for the students,” said Stillson.
The women noted that they can accept food donations for the backpacks — those extra foods will just be added to the set “menu” and give the children even more to eat, or to share with siblings, over the weekend. People interested in donating should contact Stillson at 574-935-8479 or Garner at 574-936-0613.
To find out more about Blessings in a Backpack, visit www.blessingsinabackpack.org.