Fighting hunger, one backpack at a time

Each week, volunteers from throughout the Broadalbin-Perth community gather at B-P Middle School to pack bags full of food to help total strangers through the district’s new Backpack Program, which provides B-P’s neediest families with food each weekend.

“We don’t even know the kids we’re helping, but as a congregation, we believe Christ calls us to be part of the community,” said Sam Jackling, a volunteer from the Broadalbin First Presbyterian Church.

men pose holding boxes with chocolate Easter bunnies insideOn Wednesday, the last day of school before Spring Break, volunteers from the B-P Lions Club were on hand to pack the bags, including chocolate Easter bunnies the club donated for inclusion in each bag.

“Any time there’s a need in the community, especially with youth or seniors, we’re there to do what we can,” said club president Bill Suchy.

The Backpack Program, which launched last spring, currently serves about a dozen families, all of whom remain anonymous to volunteers and donors. According to Director of Special Programs Christine Foglia-Sands, the district identifies students whose families might benefit from the program through free and reduced-price lunch applications and referrals from school social workers.

Each week, the process of preparing the bags starts on Tuesday, when school psychologist Erin Compani shops for the food that will be included in the bags. Foglia-Sands said it’s important that the food be ready-to-eat or simple and safe for a child to prepare in the microwave. Volunteers pack the bags Thursday after school, and school social workers distribute the bags to participating students each Friday.

In addition to the B-P Lions Club and Broadalbin First Presbyterian Church, the program has received support from several area businesses and business owners, including Keith Canary and Stewart’s Shops, as well as the district’s CSEA union.

Broadalbin-Perth is currently exploring an opportunity to partner with the Regional Food Bank starting in the fall as a way to lower the cost of food and streamline the process of getting backpacks into the hands of participating students. According to Jackling, the Regional Food Bank would plan each week’s menu according to federal nutritional guidelines and provide two weeks’ worth of food at a time.