Bridging the hunger gap: Churches fill up backpacks for students in need

Photo by Sherri Kolade
Henry Ford Community College students Samia Chahine (left) and Amir Elaswad pack food for elementary school students participating in the Blessings in a Backpack program at First Baptist Church of Dearborn Oct. 3.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — More and more students are taking their backpacks home for the weekends eager to open them up and take out what is inside.

But for those students, food — not homework or extra credit assignments — is what they digest.

Dearborn Blessings in a Backpack, a local non-profit organization branch of the national organization Blessings in a Backpack, has packed backpacks filled with food for dozens of DuVall and Snow elementary schools students at risk of hunger since the spring of 2011.

Henry Ford Community College students from the HFCC Rotaract Club volunteered and packed 131 backpacks for the elementary students Oct. 3 at First Baptist Church of Dearborn, 1865 Nowlin St., one of the several clubs and groups involved in helping pack the backpacks.

Last year volunteers packed 22 backpacks for DuVall and Snow students. After meeting for a third time this year to pack on Oct. 3, the volunteers filled up 32 backpacks for DuVall students and 99 backpacks for Snow students.

The Dearborn branch of the program originated when Melanie Carey, district superintendent of the Detroit Renaissance District of the United Methodist Church, gave Dearborn’s Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 1570 Mason St., $1,000 in “Kingdom Money” or money used for a good cause to benefit the community organizer the Rev. Kathy Charlefour, of Good Shepherd, said.

“I don’t know if we would have started this program without the money,” Charlefour said. “So we decided that we liked the idea of packing backpacks.”

The organization seeks to grow and spread out from the corners of west Dearborn and reach all of Dearborn schools, but it takes volunteers and money to keep the program going strong, Charlefour said.

“We realized we needed to start fundraising because we couldn’t donate all the food ourselves like we had been doing,” Charlefour said.

Donating $80 to the program will feed a child on the weekends for 38 weeks a school year. Dearborn Publics Schools has about 19,000 students in its district and 12,000 students, about two-thirds, are on a free and reduced price meal program. After the backpacks are packed they are sent home weekly with the students on Fridays and returned Mondays for a refill.

Foods such as instant oatmeal, cans of ravioli and soup, fresh bread, granola bars and gummy candy pouches are packed in the backpacks to hold students over during the weekends. Meijer and Dearborn’s Panera Cares donate the food, which gets distributed to the local backpack program.

Three churches also involved in the backpack program are Christ Episcopal Church Dearborn, 120 N. Military St., St. Paul Lutheran Church, 21915 Beech St., and First Baptist Church of Dearborn, 1865 Nowlin St.

Charlefour said she asked the pastors of each church to join in on the program during a joint church service they had last year and everyone agreed.

The Rev. Diana Thompson of First Baptist Church of Dearborn said she is glad she partnered up with Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

Duvall, 22561 Beech St., is the local elementary school for the three churches and it made sense to have the four churches involved, Charlefour said.

When Snow, 2000 Culver Ave., found out about the program staff wanted their students in need to receive backpacks also.

HFCC freshman Samia Chahine, a Rotaract member, packed backpacks and said volunteering for the backpack program is a great way to give back.

For more information about Dearborn Blessings in a Backpack, future backpacking events or the national organization Blessings in a Backpack go to To volunteer call 313-278-4350.