Assignment: Education – Backpack meals

Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Extracurricular programs can also feed a child’s brain.Especially when that child is the developer of a program designed to help her fellow classmates. “It’s definitely a lot to take on,” said Kayla Kaczorowski, a Cochrane – Fountain City High School junior. Kaczorowski was inspired to research hunger in her school district as part of an FFA community development project. “We sent home letters to all the elementary school kids and they brought them back to parent teacher conferences,” said Kaczorowski. Families could sign up to be anonymous recipients of the new Backpack Meals program Kaczorowski was organizing which would provide meals to students during Thanksgiving break. “We started out applying for grants and seeing if we could get any money to get it started,” said Kaczorowski. “And we ended up getting a $500 grant from FFA hunger heroes.” Low cost food was purchased from an area food bank to pack in the backpacks through a partnership with Kaczorowski’s family church in Fountain City. “I’ve been looking for a way to … creative ways to reach out to the community and find the needs that are out there that people don’t always talk about,” said the Rev. Greg Ferriss, St. John’s United Church of Christ. But Kaczorowski is talking about the need, and it’s lead her down a road that is starved for attention. “I cannot believe how much it’s grown since we initially started this,” said Ferriss. “We intended on doing Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter break or spring break, all those holidays,” said Kaczorowski. “But it grew so fast that we could go weekly sooner than we thought.” So beginning in February, the church began organizing volunteers to pack 36 backpacks once a week with the food they store in their building before the bags are delivered to Kaczorowski. “My lovely grandma drives them to school, and I have my agriculture class right after lunch which is about the time that they pack, said Kaczorowski. “A couple of friends from the Ag class help me take them out to the bus routes. And each backpack has its route number on there. It has the kids number, their family letter, and then it has their route number, and we put it on the specific routes and they take them when they get off the bus.” The backpacks are returned by the students to the guidance counselor’s office and picked up by Kaczorowski. The process then begins all over again. “Since Thanksgiving, I’d say around 2,400 meals were prepared for families,” said Kazcorowski. Families who are now no longer suffering in silence. “It has made us aware of a very quiet need ’cause people don’t often like to talk about this,” said Ferriss. “They don’t always like to admit that they are in a financial place where a little extra food, a little less on their grocery bill really helps the house finances a lot.” “It’s definitely a lot to take on, but I’m so glad of all the support we’ve gotten from the community, my family and from the church,” said Kazcorowski. “It’s really made it … without them it wouldn’t have been possible at all.” Yet another lesson learned by this C-FC student hungry to help her community. Kaczorowski prepares the weekly menus for the backpacks, orders the food, handles the publicity and solicits funding. She said the average cost for a backpack meal is $1.50 per student per weekend. The weekly program was made possible through several large monetary donations.