Blessings in a Backpack
Program aims to ease students' hunger
This weekend, 11 Marysville children brought home more than just homework.
As the first recipients of Blessings in a Backpack, they also brought home food to help them get through the weekend.
Amy Zwiezinski is a local resident who saw a need and decided to fill it.
"I was looking for a charitable program to donate my children's gently used backpacks from their preschool years of school and I came across this program," she said. "My first concerns were the children of these families and that they were receiving enough food and necessities."
Blessings in a Backpack is a national nonprofit organization that helps local volunteers set up a program to feed hungry children who would otherwise have no steady meals over the weekend. While many children receive meals through federal programs at school, they may go hungry over the weekend.
The backpacks usually include ready-to-eat food such as granola bars, peanut butter, tuna, crackers, macaroni and cheese, cereal and juice boxes. The organization reviews its standard menu with nutritionists annually to ensure kid-friendly yet nutritious food.
When Zwiezinski approached Marysville school district officials about the idea, the administration was supportive and excited, she said.
"We were able to sit down and discuss any concerns and program specifics," she said.
According to information from Blessings in a Backpack, participating students in other programs have shown improvement in school attendance, test scores, behavior and health.
The program costs $80 a year; which will feed a child for $2.10 per weekend. The backpacks are provided free of charge by the national Blessings in a Backpack Inc. organization.
A local organizer, such as Zwiezinski in Marysville, conducts fundraisers to fill the backpacks.
"Currently, I have collected several hundred backpacks by generous donations from residents in central Ohio as well as from local church help," she said. "I also have collected nearly $1,700 to purchase food for the backpacks each week."
She has help from partnerships that the Blessings in a Backpack corporate office has established with Walmart and Meijer.
"Walmart Supercenter in Marysville is being extremely helpful with preparing the orders for the groceries each week that will need to be packed in the backpacks," Zwiezinski said. "They also offer a slight discount in cost for the food."
Blessings in a Backpack currently feeds more than 55,000 children in 318 schools in 37 U.S. states and three countries, Zwiezinski said.
There currently are fewer than a dozen students, all from Edgewood Elementary School, using the program in Marysville.
"I am hoping to increase that number significantly in the coming weeks so that even more children can benefit from this amazing program," Zwiezinski said.
The organization asks local volunteers to commit to maintaining the program for at least three years.
"Hopefully, at the end of that commitment time, I can expand the grade levels of children who are helped by this program and grow the Blessings in a Backpack Marysville chapter to more schools and children that can benefit from this," Zwiezinski said.