Thirty Westerville students who might otherwise have gone hungry left for spring break last week knowing they would have a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
A team from Leadership Westerville, which charges participants with creating a service project, coordinated with a new charity, ShareBacAPac, to feed children in need during spring break.
“We had just done a tour of (the Westerville Area Resource Ministry), and were really surprised at the need that was out there,” said Mike Herron, a member of the Leadership Westerville team. “The only nutrition (some students) receive is during the school week, and then they go home for the weekend, and there’s not a sufficient amount of food. É Currently, there’s nothing in place to provide food during spring break. A light bulb went off in our heads.”
Westerville resident Sherry Williamson learned about the need for a weekend food program last spring.
Williamson said she saw a segment on the “Today” show last April about a program that provided backpacks full of food to students on the weekend who might otherwise not have access to healthy meals.
She asked around at some of Westerville’s elementary schools and quickly found students to help.
“We found that there was really a need in Westerville, shockingly,” Williamson said. “We started, and within a week, we had six backpacks.”
Williamson worked with cofounder Brandy Wampler through the Otterbein University Center for Community Engagement to start ShareBacAPac.
The program now serves 28 Westerville students.
Williamson said the program has found students through word-of-mouth referrals from teachers and guidance counselors.
The program has received grants, generous food donations from Progressive Medical and space in one of Church of the Messiah’s buildings to house the program.
For the spring break program, the team from Leadership Westerville, which includes Herron, Rebecca O’Neil, Paris Smith-Higbie and Brooke Vasquez, fundraised $1,300 through a letter-writing campaign, far exceeding their goal of $800, Herron said.
“We were just really shocked,” he said. “During this economic situation that we’re in, to be able to get that much money was just shocking to us but also rewarding at the same time.
“Through the donations and the shopping, we were able to leave food for the ShareBacAPac program. É They’ll have enough food to send back for potentially the rest of the year.”
The Leadership Westerville volunteers filled four packs of food for each child. The packs contain two containers of milk, juice, hot and cold cereal, an entrée, two fruits and two snacks, Herron said.
In addition to feeding the students for spring break, Herron said the hope is that the Leadership Westerville project will raise awareness about the need in the community.
While filling their carts at the grocery stores, the volunteers worked on that goal by talking to shoppers who asked why they were buying so much food.
“They asked what school district this is for, and we said, ‘Westerville,’ and people were shocked,” Herron said. “This does happen. It’s not just an isolated situation. It does happen where you might least expect it.”
Herron said the Leadership Westerville team hopes to find a way to make the spring break program sustainable.
The project also has Williamson looking for more children to feed and more funding for the program.
“Because of Leadership Westerville, I think I’m going to go seeking additional students,” Williamson said. “If there’s a student that has a need, then we want to help them out, but we have to get the funding coming in at the same time.”
More information about the ShareBacAPac program can be found on the group’s Facebook page or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.