At South Elementary School in Grandville, Mich., volunteers from South Grandville Christian Reformed Church are helping kids learn not only through tutoring but also by filling their stomachs even when they’re not in school.
South Grandville CRC members Diane Reed, left, and Annette Howerzyl pack meals for kids for the Backpack Club program.
This is the third year of the church’s Backpack Club program. Volunteers fill backpacks for students whose families are in need with healthy snacks and at least one complete meal for the student’s family. About 30 students took part in the program last year, said Diane Reed, one of the program’s directors.
“A lot of these kids are on their own. Their parents are working [and aren’t home when the kids get out],” Reed said. “We give them fruit cups, peanut butter crackers; something better than sitting in front of the TV with a bag of Doritos.”
The Backpack Club program grew out of a longstanding relationship between the church and South Elementary. For about 10 years, church members have served as mentors for kids after school through its Kids’ Hope program.
“We thought this would be another opportunity [to minister],” Reed said. “We knew the school so well and what would and wouldn’t work.”
The church sends a note home to families who qualify for free lunches through the U.S. federal school lunch program, inviting them to participate. Students who participate pick up a backpack every Friday with healthy snacks and a weekend meal. They have to return the backpack to a collection bin the next Monday to get the following week’s food. Volunteers at the church pack the food assembly-line style on Wednesdays and Thursdays for distribution on Friday.
The food for the program is donated by church members, Reed said.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s a wonderful program,” said South Elementary Principal Chuck Shultz. “It has helped those students and their families who most need the help. It’s just efficiently done with sensitivity and respectfulness.”