BackPackular volunteers fill 4,000 bags of food

Photo submitted to Times Observer Volunteers packed 4,000 bags of food for students who attend Warren County elementary schools during the semi-annual Warren BackPackular event held at the former Allegheny Valley Elementary School in Clarendon.

For many Warren County School District students, a school lunch on Friday is the last meal they get until they return to school Monday morning.

Approximately 50 volunteers gathered recently to ensure that hundreds of those students don’t have to go without a meal over the weekend.

Volunteers from Kiwanis Club of Warren, Rotary Club of Warren, and the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford packed 4,000 bags of food for students who attend Warren County elementary schools, according to Heather Musacchio, communications coordinator with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest PA, during the semi-annual Warren BackPackular event held at the former Allegheny Valley Elementary School in Clarendon.

The volunteers worked together in two-hour shifts to fill the packs with nourishing foods in an effort to combat hunger. Alison Vinopal was grateful to be among Saturday’s backpack fillers.

“I was happy to help. I love the idea,” Vinopal said. “I love that kids, and parents as well, have that little extra help. They don’t have to worry about what they are going to eat over the weekend. Times are tough.”

Saturday’s event provided enough backpacks to feed students who attend Eisenhower, Warren Area, Sheffield Area and Youngsville elementary schools in addition to students at Tidioute Community Charter School through December, Musacchio said.

Students who qualify for free and reduced school lunches are eligible to receive a backpack, according to Musacchio. Backpacks are discreetly distributed to participating students at schools on Fridays.

Each backpack contains breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack items to feed the child over the weekend.

There are a total of 360 students from the school district’s four elementary schools who participate in the backpack program, according to Matt Jones, coordinator of grant and foundation development for the district. On average, more than half of the students at each elementary school are eligible for free or reduced lunches, according to statistics Jones provided.

Tidioute Community Charter School has a current enrollment of 305 students in grades K to 12. Business Manager Denise Myers would like to see more participation with just 21 students getting backpacks this year.

“I feel like the need is there,” Myers said. “I don’t know why more don’t take part.”

Myers said students at the charter school are no longer required to be eligible for free or reduced lunches to qualify. Instead, students who may be in need are referred by a teacher and then parents are asked for permission for their child to receive a backpack.

The Food Bank administers the weekend backpack program in cooperation with the school district. The program started in 2014 with Warren school district joining not long after, according to Musacchio. The charter school in Tidioute has also participated for at least several years, Myers said.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the weekend backpack program can send a check to Second Harvest Food Bank of NW Pa, 1507 Grimm Drive, Erie, Pa. 16501or donate online at nwpafoodbank.org and designate funds for the Warren County School District, according to Musacchio.

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