City starts fundraising for ‘Blessings’

Photo By Sue Suchyta


Volunteers open juice box cases prior to packing bags of food at Taylor School District Warehouse, 9601 Westlake Thursday morning. The volunteers include Steve Wixson (left) of Lincoln Park; Heather Gervasi of Taylor, an academic teaching assistant at Holland Elementary School; Pam Jeffries of Westland and Kathy Kidd (right) of Taylor.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE– A full backpack is usually the last thing a student wants to take home on the weekend.

But when it’s packed with food by Blessings in a Backpack volunteers, it can be a welcome weight.

Wyandotte Public Schools is joining Taylor School District and nearly two dozen Michigan communities in the Blessings in a Backpack program, which offers backpacks full of non-perishable food for weekend meals to children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The non-profit group, which came to Taylor last year, was founded in Louisville, Ky. in July 2005 by former professional tennis player Stan Curtis who heard from concerned teachers about students returning to school on Mondays tired and hungry.

Wyandotte Public Schools has been looking at Garfield Elementary as a pilot school since last March. Before they can start the program for next school year, they must raise $20,000 in start-up costs to feed the 200 children at the school who receive free or reduced-price lunches.

To do that, the steering committee, headed up by Board of Education Trustee Dana Browning, plans to solicit businesses and individuals in the community. The money raised in one community, will always stay there, said Tom Kaszubski, president of the North Woodward Community Foundation, which assists in fundraising for the program.

The local steering committee aims to have the program in place at Garfield School by the beginning of October. Browning said that they will make every effort to raise the funds by September to achieve that goal.

“God is good,” she said. “He’s been good to me, so I know He will help us raise this money.”

Andrea Fuller, also on the steering committee, said she sees the need for the program firsthand when she volunteers at Washington Elementary, where he daughter attends.

“This is a far-reaching and meaningful program that we hope to get started up and make it successful for our kids,” she said.

Cheryl Whitton, chairwoman of the Blessings in a Backpack Michigan Advisory Board, explained the program and fundraising process on June 6 to the Wyandotte City Council.

She said that Wyandotte has 2,446 children eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.

Whitton said that nationally the program costs $80 per student recipient. In Michigan the cost is $100 per student because districts there usually pack double food for the winter and spring breaks.

Once a community decides to pursue a Blessings in a Backpack program, Whitton helps them form a steering committee and identify potential major local corporate donors and key community people. She said they try to get the local program funded before announcing a launch to the public.

Taylor School District launched Blessings in a Backpack in March at Fischer and Holland Elementary Schools. Although Fischer will close before school restarts in the fall, program volunteers say the program will follow the student recipients to their new schools.

Sue Massucci, principal of Holland Elementary, says the program has been a valuable resource for families who need a little extra help providing food for their children on weekends.

“The kids look forward to receiving the backpacks on Friday and parents are truly appreciative,” Massucci said. “With the economy Downriver in such a mess and more and more parents out of work, this program helps ease that burden.”

She hopes that donations will enable more children from Holland Elementary and schools throughout the Taylor School District to take advantage of the program.

Michigan joined 22 other states offering the program in November 2008, and relies on individuals and businesses to donate food and funding.

Whitton says seven more Southeastern Michigan school districts are raising funds for a fall launch, two may start programs in January, and fifteen other local communities have expressed an interest but have not yet decided whether to go with the program.

“I think one of the most important things is we can’t afford to leave any of our children behind,” said Whitton. “These kids are going to be America’s future and we need to do everything possible to make sure that they get a quality education, and feeding them on the weekends is one way to ensure that they’re ready to learn and their brains are ready to actually go through the learning process. It’s just sad that these kids don’t have food on the weekends.”

For more information about Blessings in a Backpack, call (248) 528-1060 or visit www.blessingsinabackpackmi.org or www. blessingsinabackpack.org..

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