Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. You can view past posts from the series here.
One thing I’ve learned about being consistent with philanthropy is that way in which you give back needs to be meaningful. When the thing you do (whatever it is) means something personally to you, it makes you want to do more.
My husband first told me about the Backpack Program that was launched by the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), an organization that is right down the street from my house. He heard about the program in a meeting and knew I would want to volunteer.
Over 80,000 children in the state of Maine qualify for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program and over 2,500 qualify in MCHPP’s service area. Maine has a food insecurity rate of 23.9% for children. These kids arrive to school on Monday morning hungry. They often rely on the food they get at school to keep them nourished throughout the week.
Feeding America’s BackPack Program helps children get nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to keep them fed on the weekends. In the times I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for MCHPP’s program – it’s actually hard to get volunteer slots! – we’ve filled 197 backpacks for kids in elementary schools in my local area. We stand in an assembly line and fill bags with things like fruit cups, pasta, rice, oatmeal, canned vegetables and fruit snacks. The bags are sealed and put into bins that are then delivered to the schools by other volunteers.
One time, I had the chance to fill bags with two teachers from Harpswell. When asked by the volunteer coordinator for the evening to talk about the impact the program has made in their classroom, one of the women could barely mutter the words “it’s been good.” She teared up and assured us that there were students in her class who truly needed the program.
In the Backpack Program, it is the teachers who identify the students that need the bags. As one of the teachers from Harpswell told us, she can tell which students aren’t getting enough to eat because they always eat the extra snacks she brings for kids who forget, and they ask for anyone’s leftover food. The bags are discreetly placed into the children’s backpacks by the teachers so the kids don’t feel ashamed of having to take food home.
As you can imagine, kids who aren’t properly nourished have problems concentrating in school. Their learning is affected. If kids are hungry in elementary school, how hard will it be for them to success later on in life?
I’ve talked with my elementary school-age son, G, about food insecurity before. We’ve participated in food drives and sponsored families during the holiday season. He is diligent about collecting Box Tops for his school, and he made sure he saved all of the lids to his Yoplait yogurt in the month of October so he could enter them online and help save lives.
This week, G came with me to volunteer for the Backpack Program. He practically begged me to come, and I obliged. I told him it would be hard work, and he said he was up to it. He did great, of course. He packed fruit snacks and oatmeal and felt the rush of helping others in need. His own peers. He’s already asked to go back.
In January, the number of bags we pack will go up to 225. It saddens me to no end that there are that many children in my area that are hungry. I want to feed them all.
With Thanksgiving next week, remember those that won’t have a Thanksgiving dinner. Consider donating to a local food drive or seeing how you can help out at a local soup kitchen or food pantry. I am proud to say that my fellow Mother of all Meltdowns authors and I have sponsored four families through the Scary Mommy Nation Thanksgiving Project.
MCHPP tells me the most important factors in their long term success are volunteers and donations of food and money. Of course the need is year round and not just the holidays. Feeding American suggests using their Food Bank Locator to contact your local food bank and find out about BackPack programs in your community.