Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

September 14, 2013

National food program has local ties

TRAVERSE CITY — Mary Stanton and Jo Walker don’t know the children they help.

They’ll never hear a “thank you.” Nor will they see a smile. Yet simply knowing they are making a difference is enough.

Stanton paused for a moment Wednesday afternoon as the women loaded cases of food into their vehicles behind Meijer. The shipments will feed 160 students during the weekends for the next three weeks. The children participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program in Leelanau County schools, she said.

“How can you not love it,” Stanton said. “They are innocent, it’s not their fault.”

Thirty cases of juice boxes, 20 cases of peanut butter, seven cases of macaroni and cheese and 20 cases of Ramen noodles stuffed the women’s two SUVs along with 34 other cases of food. The pair started the local branch of a national non-profit organization last school year after Stanton spotted an article in People magazine highlighting its benefits.

Blessings in a Backpack was formed in 2005 after a Louisville, Ky., school teacher noticed that students at her school who received free or reduced-price lunches were having trouble focusing after being away from school for the weekends. They came to school Monday mornings sluggish, tired and hungry.

They came hungry because they had no food to eat at home during the weekends. In turn that teacher began a program which sends backpacks filled with easily-prepared foods home with students in need each weekend.

Now, eight years later, independent arms of the national group distribute food to 60,000 students in 544 schools spread across 42 states.

Not knowing what need they would find, Stanton and Walker, both active with Leelanau Christian Neighbors, decided to begin their program small helping about 20 students at one school. But by the end of the school year, that number grew to more than 100 in six schools.

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