Four years ago at a PTO meeting, Kelly learned that children were saving juice and granola bars from the cafeteria to take home because they were hungry.

“I knew people were hungry, but I didn’t know it was to this extent. And I didn’t realize how many kids are at home alone, cooking and fending for
 themselves,” she said.

Determined to help the children of her community, Kelly started a Blessings in a Backpack program to serve schools in New Philadelphia. Blessings in a Backpack is a national nonprofit that encourages communities to start their own backpack program.

The program has been serving families in New Philadelphia for the past four years. It began with 60 kids receiving easy-to-prepare meals and snacks, bridging the gap from the school’s lunch on Friday to the school’s breakfast on Monday. Now the program offers help to 850 children each month.

As more families are struggling because of COVID-19, the visibility of local hunger has been brought to the forefront. Kelly and her team hope the awareness helps destigmatize taking home a food bag — as students leave elementary school, they choose to exit the program though their family may still need help.

Kelly, program volunteers and school counselors regularly hear heartbreaking stories of children and families who rely heavily on Blessings in a Backpack. She reflects on the mother who called the school crying because her child missed the bus and had no way to get to school. This meant he wouldn’t receive his food bag, and the family so desperately needed it. Children are also worried about Friday holidays, hoping they receive their food
bag on Thursdays instead, which they do.

“Kids line up to receive their food bag and are so excited. For a kid to have to worry about that — it makes me cry. Out of 850 kids, if one child knows someone cares about them — if they don’t have that in their life — then we’re successful.” The partnership between Blessings in a Backpack and the Foodbank has been vital to the children’s food program. “It means we can offer so many more items and different kinds of food to our students. Peanut butter to a kid — that’s amazing! We were called to do this work. We ran with it and we never looked back. The Foodbank has helped our program tenfold, and we’re so thankful.”