GREEN: Community volunteers, including business professionals, school leaders, organizations and residents, are banding together to help eradicate childhood hunger.
Although many consider Green an affluent community, officials at Thursday’s Blessings in a Backpack program learned that 25 percent of the city school district’s student population is eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program — and often suffer from hunger on the weekends at home.
To try to improve their plight, community leaders have launched the second year of the national Blessings in a Backpack program. They discreetly provide needy students from preschool through eighth grade with weekend food bags under the direction of Green resident and project coordinator Jennifer Doerrer.
So well organized is the program that volunteers packed 75 food bags for this week and next week in 15 minutes Thursday at Green Primary School.
“It’s another one of those great events where the community comes together, sees a need and gets organizers and volunteers and raises some money,” said Mayor Dick Norton, a bagging participant. “It’s just another example of the corporate community and individuals coming together to solve a real need.
“Hunger for children is a real problem. Kids who are hungry can’t learn. And they can also misbehave,” he said.
Green Superintendent Jeffrey L. Miller II worked on the “assembly line” with Assistant Superintendent Kevin Finefrock and 22 other volunteers ranging in age from 30 to 80.
“This is great where we have these partnerships with our community to benefit our kids first and foremost in the schools,” Miller said. “And all these area businesses that are giving of their time and resources to help make life a little better for some of our community members.”
Miller said he wants kids coming into the schools to be able to focus on learning, “which is why things like this help, because the last thing we want is for kids not to have breakfasts and lunches and have to worry about that.”
He said he was proud, as a father, when he saw his 6-year-old son going through the kitchen pantry looking not for something to eat himself but rather for something he could give to someone he wanted to help.
Doerrer said the national program took a local twist in Green when she read an Akron Beacon Journal article about a school in Akron involved in such a project.
She approached Finefrock, then Green Primary’s principal, who said the program definitely would benefit the school. She then sought out volunteers, donations and partnerships.
Based on the national organization’s guidelines, the 38-week program would cost about $80 a child, Doerrer said. But by using donated funds and bargain shopping, the cost last year was only about $34 per child.
Backpacks are donated by the national group and are used to transport the food bags as well as for those without backpacks to tote their books and homework.
“We pack the food on Thursdays, and counselors then take them to the teachers while the children are out of their classrooms,” said Doerrer, the mother of four boys.
“The teachers then sneak the [food] bags into the recipients’ backpacks, so none of the other children know that the bag is going in. In Green, [the secrecy] is very important because we are not dealing with 98 percent of the population. We’re dealing with only about 10 percent of our population.”
She said every week a recipient is given two lunch and two breakfast items, two snacks at least and a soup, macaroni and cheese, tuna, popcorn, food snacks and pudding. Queen of Heaven Catholic Church sometimes provides extra treats; this week came packs of cookies.
FedEx employee Romona Hood, director of the FedEx Truckload Brokerage Group, wholly owned by FedEx Custom Critical and located across Boettler Road from Green High School, said her workers jumped at the opportunity to volunteer when co-worker Jennifer Logsdon brought the cause to the company’s attention.
“It is important to us to make sure that every kid has a very nutritious meal. That is our goal to help support our community,” Hood said.
George W. Davis can be emailed at email@example.com.