Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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November 24, 2012

Volunteers provide weekend food for local students

LaGRANGE — It all started with insomnia. Michelle Campbell was home, her three daughters were asleep and she was wide awake.

“I was watching the cooking channel,” Michelle said. “It was battle of the lunch ladies and one of them started talking about a charity food program for little school kids called Blessings in a Back Pack. Something just clicked in my head and I said, ‘I could do that.’”

Campbell works as an implementation consultant for ADP Corp. Numbers are her daily bread and butter so she recognized an efficient program when she researched it. She believed the Blessings in a Back Pack was well run and would require a minimal time commitment of once a month for volunteers. The biggest hurdle was fund raising. It requires $80 per student to provide the weekend food pack to a child for 38 weekends in the school year.

She approached the Xplors Sunday school group and a few fellow church members at the First United Methodist Church in LaGrange. With the help of those volunteers and the donations of church and community members, Michelle had enough money to buy food for the Wolcott-Mills Elementary School children for the 2012-2013 school year.

Currently they have committed to a three-year plan with Wolcott-Mills Principal Brad Taggart. This school year they have 60 children on the list to receive the packages on Friday. According to the website The Blessings in a Backpack program is simple. Once a school is adopted, Blessings in a Backpack will provide the program framework for implementation.

The next step, according to the website, is fundraising to support the number of children the program will feed. Also, the groups need to organize their volunteers to manage the logistics of getting the food from the grocer to the school or facility where the bags will be loaded with food for distribution, once a month. Every volunteer has a different motivation that helps them enjoy doing good deeds.

Bryan McCoy is in Mont and Elizabeth Arnold’s Sunday School group, Xplors, at the First United Methodist Church in October.

“I came to help out today after I heard about this charity at church,” McCoy said. “I will help as long as they need me and I am going to ask my friends to get involved.”

Amy McKowen brought her nieces. Happily stuffing their grocery bags full of goodies, were 8-year-old Kimberley Sites and her 5-year-old sister, Caitlyn.

“I like doing this,” Caitlyn said. “We like shopping for groceries. We like having fun with our aunt, then we go to eat.”

Campbell’s group decided not to go with the separate free backpacks offered by the organization.

“The backpacks have a logo on them and we felt that would ‘mark’ the kids who were getting the food,” Campbell said. “We prefer they be as anonymous as possible.”

The LaGrange group fills up fresh plastic grocery bags with the food and the teachers put those bags into the student’s personal backpacks at the end of the day on Friday. That way they have food to eat all weekend. Food they can actually prepare themselves in a microwave or with boiling water.

The food pack includes ready-to-eat food items, including granola bars, peanut butter, tuna, crackers, macaroni and cheese, cereal, juice boxes, etc. Blessings in a Backpack reviews its standard menu with a nutritionist annually to make sure the food is kid-friendly, nutritious, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare. One hundred percent of all monies raised for a new or existing school programs go directly to food purchased for the program, according to the website. There are no administrative fees.

Campbell said more than 50 percent of the elementary students in just the Lakeland district qualify for the federal free and reduced meal programs.

“We believe the only way to help those children rise out of poverty is to ensure they have the proper nutrition they need during the school year so that they have every chance to learn and succeed, she said. “ One hundred percent of all the money raised in our community will be spent on purchasing food for the children in our local elementary schools.”

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