Sunday, February 7, 2016

Independent: Backpack Crew packs food to help families

There's a good article in this week's Independent about some great people trying to make a difference by feeding hungry kids in Monmouth County. The Backpack Crew 

From the Independent:

By KAYLA J. MARSHStaff Writer

RED BANK — For many families in Monmouth County, the free/subsidized lunch children receive during school is sometimes their main and only meal of the day, according to local officials.

What happens though when they are not in school or are just feeling hungry because they do not have full meals at home?

One local nonprofit is working to answer these questions.

“It is hard to believe that lunch is the best meal of the day for these kids,” said Suzanne Dice, founder of The Backpack Crew. “You never think that it is your own community, that it could be your neighbors.”

The idea for The Backpack Crew came a year after superstorm Sandy when Dice was listening to a local teacher talk about her school and how there were families still struggling to get by.

“My husband and I always wanted to start a program and we talked about it, but it was always just something [to do] down the road,” Dice said.

“This woman was basically asking for prayers for her school and the families who were still trying to get back on their feet from Sandy, and when I heard this story, I was so moved and just felt like we needed to do something.”

Cindy Squassoni, a member of The Backpack Crew team, said she feels after the storm all that was discussed were problems residents were having with insurance companies or other issues.

“I don’t think anyone really heard about the long-term impact that [the storm] had on these families, these people who lost their jobs because of it, who were never homeless before that suddenly were and who could provide for their family beforehand but couldn’t anymore,” said Squassoni. “It was new for them and I think this teacher brought all of that to the conversation.”

Based out of The United Methodist Church of Red Bank at 247 Broad St., The Backpack Crew was founded in October 2013 and is dedicated to delivering weekend groceries to families in need and raising awareness about childhood hunger.

Here is how it works. Families are assigned their own backpack, which is delivered to the school each Friday filled with groceries such as macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables, oatmeal packets, granola bars, peanut butter and fruit cups. In the backpack is two days’ worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The backpack is then returned to the school on Monday to be refilled.

“We have limited space in those backpacks but we make the most out of it and jam as much as we can into those bags,” Dice said.

After starting out with one school, The Backpack Crew has expanded to feed families in five different schools throughout Red Bank, Middletown and Highlands.

“When we were designing this program with the first school nurse, our main number one goal was to keep it private for the families,” Dice said. “We wanted families to feel comfortable in accepting the help. I don’t know any of the families or their names. We know how many adults and children are assigned to each bag since every bag has a number, so we know how many to pack for, but we drop off the bags to the nurse and that is where it ends for us.”...

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