BELLEVUE - When Bellevue Mayor Kevin Strecker made a public request for donations to the Bellevue Back Pack Program, which provides weekend food to needy students, donations began coming in. Individuals sent monetary donations and The Bellevue Hospital donated nonperishable food, but more help is needed to keep the program going.
Each Friday during the school year, volunteers Patti Gray, Donna Reer and Suzanne Good — who call themselves the BackPack Bunch — head to Bellevue Elementary School to pack weekend food bags for students. The bags contain a variety of food, from canned pasta and individual cereal packs to cartons of milk and bagged fruit snacks.
The food is available to any student whose family requests it. There are no income inquiries or requirements.
During the students’ lunch periods, the women cart the bags into the empty classrooms and tuck the bags into recipients’ backpacks. Packing the bags when students aren’t around maintains secrecy and dignity for the students.
The food is purchased from Second Harvest Food Bank with the help of Bellevue Fish and Loaves Food Pantry.
“The food varies according to what Second Harvest has for us,” Gray said. “We try to have things the kids can make on their own.”
The Bellevue Back Pack Program and Fish and Loaves maintain separate budgets but work together to make sure food is supplied to children for the weekend. The Bellevue Back Pack Program’s budget has been hit by the pandemic.
“We’re funded by donations, and I was told we’re running low,” Gray said.
For now, the women are working with the food they have to ensure students don’t go hungry on the weekend, and they will pack extra in the bags to help the kids over spring break. They currently serve 64 children, but the number of requests has been as high as 120.
“We have this down to a science. We can pack 64 bags in less than 30 minutes,” Gray said. “Before we get here, Bill Baptista gets our delivery here, stacks it on the pallets, and gets everything ready for us. We couldn’t do this without Bill.”
Gray is a retired Bellevue and Bucyrus teacher who has seen the effects of low nutrition on students, so she is grateful to be a part of the BackPack Bunch.
“As a retired teacher, I know kids cannot learn things if they do not have the gasoline for their brainpower,” Gray said. “They can’t function. They’re sleepy and not paying attention.”
Gray has been volunteering for the backpack program for about five years and Reer and Good joined her about three years ago. Good said she wasn’t surprised to learn there is a food need in the community.
“It’s nice to have them sign up so they do have food for the weekend,” Good said.
Bellevue Elementary School Secretary Diane DeBlase keeps records on student involvement for the backpack program so the women know how many bags to pack each week. She said any family is welcome to request a weekend bag because, “we don’t want to deny anyone if they need it.”
“I think having food at home is one less thing for the families to worry about,” DeBlase said. “It gets the kids ready for success. If they have better nutrition, their minds are better.”
That is why the BackPack Bunch shows up at the school each week.
“Children are the future, so it’s nice to be able to help out,” Reer said.
Donations to the Bellevue Back Pack Program can be made to: Fish and Loaves (Attention Back Pack Program) 203 Maple St., Bellevue 44811.
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at email@example.com.