Greet the giver: Backpack Blessings

Lee County program boots children's educational success

— Blessings in a Backpack provides weekend nourishment to children grades K-5 in Title 1 schools who qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program. The goal is to boost the educational success of these children by removing the distraction of hunger, lowering stress at home and providing their brains and bodies with the nutrients they need.

Weekend backpacks include non-perishable, ready-to-eat food items such as Fruit Roll-Ups, Pop Tarts, drink mix packs, instant noodles, peanut butter, pasta, granola, instant potatoes and others. Food is distributed by volunteers and school officials on Fridays before children leave for the weekend. Most recipients of food are in a household with a single parent of with parents who are classified as working poor.

All funds raised by Blessings in a Backpack of Lee County stay in Lee County.

1. If you could gather the community and tell them one thing about your charity, what would it be?

In light of the tough times we are in, you want to make every penny you donate to charity truly count. We are so proud that 100 percent of all donations go directly to feeding children in Southwest Florida and since the cost of feeding a child for an entire school year is only $80, it is an affordable way to support your community. Our costs have not gone up at all and yet the number of “the new hungry” in our area has.

2. What is unique about having a charity in Southwest Florida?

The generosity and diversity of our donors. The residents of Southwest Florida come from all over the world and they enjoy the lifestyle our area has to offer but they don’t take it for granted. They give their time and their money at every opportunity. I have lived all over the country and I have never seen an area more dedicated to making a difference and giving thanks for what they have by giving back to the community.

3. What surprises you the most about working with this charity?

When I became involved with Blessings in a Backpack I knew we would impact the lives of children; but I was naïve as to how deep an impact a backpack of food makes on the community as a whole. These children end up helping to feed their entire family and extended family members. Their grades and attendance rates soar. That in turn leads to increased test scores and increased funding for the schools they attend. I often say that I had no idea how far the ripple effect would reach and I am continually amazed and touched by the stories the teachers and children share with us.

4. Why did you choose to devote your time to this charity over others?

It sounds trite, but children really are our future. I wanted to work with a group that benefited children in every way possible. Blessings does so much more than feed the hungry, although that is crucial. Having a full stomach and increased attendance at school helps the children’s education and boosts their potential for learning. Bringing home food each week raises the child’s status in the family to that of a “bread winner” and thus can reduce abuse and neglect.

5. How does working for your charity make you feel?

In one word: bittersweet. It feels incredible to read the letters of the kids and hear in their words how much it means to them, but if I was told that every child and every family had enough to eat and there was no need for Blessings in a Backpack any longer, I would be the first to happily close it down.

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