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Blessing in a backpack: New program provides food for hungry kids

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Nearly 200 North Grove students go home every Friday without enough food to keep them full during the weekend, but a group of high school volunteers hopes to change that.

Center Grove will be participating in the national Blessings in a Backpack program. The national food distribution program gave Center Grove 195 backpacks to the North Grove students, and once a week, volunteers from the high school will meet for an afternoon to fill them with oatmeal, granola bars, fruit snacks, juice boxes, macaroni and spaghetti.

Their hope is when the students return to school Monday, they won’t be hungry, said program coordinator Chris Hickey, who has two children at Center Grove High School.

Hickey wanted to find a way to give meals to Center Grove elementary students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program — about 20 percent of all students last year — who weren’t getting enough to eat at home.

Two years ago, she heard about Blessings in a Backpack from a friend in Fort Wayne. The program is similar to one run by the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana and used by Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools.

After speaking with the elementary school principals, Hickey found North Grove had the greatest need with 195 students.

The program provides the backpacks, but it’s up to communities to raise money for the food. Since September, Hickey has been coordinating fundraisers and organizing high school students and groups willing to help fill the backpacks.

Groups of student philanthropists and football players have all offered to help, and if Hickey can find more students and more donors then the program can give food to students at other Center Grove elementary schools, she said.

“Quite honestly there are so many (high school) students who want to help that it would be great if we could add more (elementary) students,” she said.

The cost of feeding one student through the program is about $80 per school year, and the total cost for the 195 North Grove students is about $15,600 per school year, Hickey said.

So far about $12,000 has been raised. That’s enough to buy food for North Grove’s free and reduced-price lunch students through the end of the school year, but the fundraising can’t stop.

Elementary students who receive the backpacks of food will come to count on them, meaning the program can’t afford to run out of food, Hickey said. And if the program can raise enough money then it can expand to other Center Grove elementary schools, she said.

In order to add students from other schools Hickey needs to show that Center Grove can raise enough money to feed at least 50 students from those schools. That means adding at least $4,000 to the overall fundraising goal for each additional school, she said.

The group has been raising money during the last three months, including raffles for area residents as well as $1,200 raised through an art show put on by Center Grove students.

The students made 47 paintings that they planned to sell to raise money for charity. After learning about the program, the students had the art show at the Strange Brew coffee house and sold 16 of the paintings, each for $80 — enough to feed one elementary student for a year.

Early next month those students will be the first group to fill the backpacks with food for the North Grove students. Other student groups from Center Grove, including the football team, have also volunteered to help fill backpacks for the program, Hickey said.

Hickey wants to have as many student volunteers filling the backpacks as she can, and the more food the program is able to buy the more students can be involved.

She’s also hopeful that as word of the program spreads, more residents and businesses will decide to contribute.

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