Blessings in a Backpack | Nonprofit spotlight

Blessings in a Backpack began in Canton with six friends who wanted to come together to touch the community in a “hands-on” way. The friends, all wives of Timken Co. executives, decided to start the program in Canton after reaching out to the founder of the national program of the same name.

Blessings in a Backpack began in Canton with six friends who wanted to come together to touch the community in a “hands-on” way. The friends, all wives of Timken Co. executives, decided to start the program in Canton after reaching out to the founder of the national program of the same name.

The group contacted the Canton City School District and chose to focus on Dueber Elementary, where more than 95 percent of students received federally funded lunch and breakfast.

“The principal told us that many of the kids lined up outside the school for breakfast on Monday mornings because they did not have adequate food in their homes for the weekend,” said Pam Griffith, one of the six local founders.

“We meet at the school and pack a backpack for each child full of simple food, like juice boxes, Pop-Tarts and ramen noodles, that the kids can fix for themselves. Each child gets a backpack to take home on Friday and must bring it back to school on Monday. The program was phenomenally successful, so we expanded it to cover Belden Elementary.”

While the national Blessings group is a 501(c)3, the local organization is not at this time. The founders worked to find local
backing for the program, including raising funds to purchase the food and finding a grocer willing to help.

“We each invested personally in the program and started our search for someone to help us out. The Timken Co. was willing to match the funds that we had contributed,” Griffith said. “We now partner with Buehler’s in Jackson Township. They deliver the food to each of the schools, and we have numerous volunteers who come help us pack the bags. Our expansion to Belden means we feed over 600 children every week.”

The group has continued to fund the program for three years now by acquiring grants from local companies and foundations, and it held a fundraiser last September that raised $50,000 for the local effort.

“The need in Canton is great. We would like to be able to assure that every child is fed over the weekend. The result is improved attendance and better test scores,” Griffith said. “The backpack is filled with foods that are easy to prepare at home and as healthy as it can be. The original cost was approximately $2.80 per child per week. We have found that it costs more than that. All of the money we receive goes directly to the purchase of food. There is no overhead.”

She said the group always is looking for additional volunteers to help pack the backpacks. They pack at Belden Elementary on
Thursday mornings at 9 a.m. and at Dueber Elementary on Friday mornings at 8:30 a.m.

ABOUT BLESSINGS IN A BACKPACK

WHAT: A local grass-roots organization patterned after a national nonprofit organization of the same name. The group makes backpacks of food for students to take home over the weekends to make sure they have something to eat.

DONATIONS: Contributions to the program can be sent to Stacey Kyle, 7084 Wild Fox Run, Massillon, OH 44646.

Email: Cantonblessings@aol.com.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass