Too many Westerville City Schools students are going hungry on the weekends, say members of a group of local volunteers, and they've been at work over the last three years to change that.
Westerville ShareBacAPac was founded by Sherry Williamson and Brandy Wampler in the spring of 2011, with the pair providing packed-up bags of weekend meals and snacks to a handful of students.
"We started out with four kids; we ended the 2011 school year with seven kids," Williamson said. "Our goal is to be able to offer help to any kid in the Westerville City School District."
Williamson said she and Wampler felt stuck at the end of the 2012 school year, during which an Otterbein University student volunteer had worked closely with them to see the program grow.
To keep momentum, they applied for federal nonprofit status.
Their efforts came to a head this fall, when nonprofit status came through and more and more volunteers stepped forward to support what the group was doing.
"The community definitely came behind us as we moved along," Wampler said.
One volunteer made heart-shaped pins, which several Uptown businesses began selling to raise money for ShareBacAPac. That initiative brought in $1,000 for the group.
ReVision, a local eye surgery practice, took up the cause as part of its charity program and raised $2,000 for the group.
Volunteers have worked to create fliers, brochures and a Facebook page and are in the process of developing a website.
"It's all volunteer," said Jerry Nieman, one volunteer who helped step forward to form the advisory committee. "It's a lot of passionate people that are filled with love for the kids."
The result, Williamson said, is that the group is serving more students -- now 84 students in 10 schools -- and has a firmer bank account than ever before.
Nonetheless, there's more work to be done, with about one-third -- or roughly 4,000 -- Westerville students on the free- or reduced-price lunch program, in need of food on weekends and breaks from school.
"During the weeks, the kids are pretty well taken care of (through the schools). It's Friday when they go home that all bets are off," Nieman said. "We want to get the message to people that no child should go hungry. To do that, we need manpower. We need financial contributions."
It costs about $6 to put together a weekend backpack for the students, Wampler said.
The group aims to fill the bags with two breakfasts, two lunch entrees, two fruits, two milks, juice and three or four healthy snacks, though often students receive a little less because of financial restraints, Williamson said.
The group purchases the individually packaged foods, which allow students to serve themselves on the weekends, from local grocers, Williamson said.
Ideally, they would like to find a way to purchase the food more cheaply, though they haven't had luck finding a partner that would allow them to do that yet, she said.
The volunteers also would like to see more volunteers -- either groups or individuals -- who can hold fund drives or food drives for needed items, or pack or distribute the meals.
"To me, this is what our world should be about," Nieman said of the program. "It's people helping people in the community."
Anyone interested in supporting ShareBacAPac can contact the group via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can attend open volunteer meetings, held at 1 p.m. the first and third Friday of every month at the Westerville Area Resource Ministry, 175 E. Broadway.