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Sterling Heights, Warren

April 1, 2013

Food program is a ‘blessing’

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

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District nurse and Blessings in a Backpack Fundraising Chair Julia Lechtenberg, of Rochester Hills, front, helps pack food with Kathy DeBaker, a volunteer of St. Clair Shores; Marjorie Racine, district nurse and packing chair of the group, of Warren; retired teacher Carolyn Kiertanis, of Warren; school board member and retired clerical staff member Elaine Martin; and Gloria Williams, a volunteer of Macomb.

STERLING HEIGHTS — About 450 Warren Consolidated Schools students enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner on the weekends thanks to a program that provides food to children who otherwise might go without.

About a year ago, school officials implemented the Blessings in a Backpack program at Angus, Harwood and Hatherly elementary schools and at Grissom Middle School.

“It took a little more than a year to get the program up and running,” said Wyman Lare, district director of student affairs, who also is the chair of the Blessings in a Backpack Steering Committee.

Blessings in a Backpack is available to students who qualify based on the National School Lunch Program free and reduced lunch program.

The program provides a total of six meals for Saturday and Sunday. Students receive their food, every Friday in a backpack, which they bring home over the weekend. Meals consist of several foods including oatmeal, spaghetti, applesauce, tuna fish, chicken noodle soup, peaches, hot chocolate and peanut butter. The distribution is done discreetly, as not to make the recipients uncomfortable.

“They’re made available to students by name is as low key a way as we can do it,” Lare said.

In order for students to receive a variety of meals, program organizers change menus throughout the year. And the program is not mandatory.

“Blessings is not a program you force on somebody,” Lare said. “First, we identify students and then we send a letter homes to parents. If they say ‘no,’ they don’t participate.”

Lare said some families turn down the program because of dietary issues. Other families also opt out, he said, based on cultural reasons.

Funding for the program is not taken from the district’s general fund. Program organizers must raise money on their own, and that money is placed into a foundation account.

The North Woodward Community Foundation manages the Blessings in a Backpack program for participating school districts in Michigan. Founder Stand Curtis created the program in 2005 in Louisville, Ky.

Wyman said the cost is $100 per year, per child. He said the food is ordered through Meijer. School officials can see the program’s value.

“It certainly is beneficial for the students, and the intent is to expand it and include all the schools eventually,” WCS Spokesperson Robert Freehan said. “A family that does not have food to eat, the children are not prepared to do their best in school.”

Program organizers held various fundraisers in an effort to implement the program. Money also will be raised to sustain the program. The most recent benefit for the program were from ticket sales from the Warren Consolidated School of Performing Arts performance of “Snoopy” March 23.

If you would like to make a monetary donation, contact Wyman Lare at (586) 698-4110. For more information about the program, visit www.blessingsinabackpackmi.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.