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September 05, 2012 - School has begun and Blessings in a Backpack is asking for donations to fill backpacks with food for Clarkston students in need.

The first annual Golfing for Backpacks at Pine Knob Golf Club, Oct. 6, is for Blessings in a Backpack, a program which started in Clarkston Community Schools last year at Andersonville Elementary, Pine Knob Elementary and Clarkston Elementary.

"It is a program for students who receive free and reduced lunches during the week to get food on the weekends," explained Kerri Gualtieri, a teacher at Sashabaw Middle School.

Each backpack has six meals in it for the weekend which are kid-friendly, nutritional and non-perishable. Through a partnership with Meijer the cost is $100 each student to feed them for the entire school year.

"It is comforting to know they are being taken care of," said Gualtieri.

Every week the students receive the backpack on Friday and bring it back to school on Monday. Volunteers fill the backpacks on Wednesday and they are dropped off at schools on Thursday. The students also receive enough for weekends when they are on holiday break.

Last year Blessings in a Backpack fed 100 students in the three elementaries - this year it doubles as they add North Sashabaw Elementary to the program.

"Over half the population at North Sashabaw is on free and reduced lunches," Gualtieri explained.

She added the program improves students' attendance because if they aren't in school on Friday, they won't receive the backpack. Also, if they aren't in school on Monday to return the backpack, it won't be filled for the upcoming weekend.

Other differences in the students include increased test scores, greater attention spans and their attitudes.

"My one friend teaches as Pine Knob brings in food on a weekly basis for her kids," said Gualtieri. "She said they are more upbeat. One student made a comment, 'look someone cares about me.'

"As teachers, we try to make sure all of our kids are on the same ground," she added. "But if we have kids in our classroom that are hungry, it is taking away from everything we do."

The Blessings in a Backpack program has touched everyone throughout the district. Sixth-graders at Sashabaw Middle School made stepping stones, decorated them and sold them. They gave the profits to the program.

"We even have had kids have lemonade stands for it," Gualtieri smiled. "We have had three kids give up birthday gifts and have people give donations to Blessings in a Backpack. One of the boys couldn't believe there were kids in school without food. He was so shocked and said 'mom, I want to give to these kids to have food.'"

Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock allowed teachers to wear jeans on developmental days for $1 with the money going to Blessings in a Backpack.

Gualtieri explained they will have donations throughout the year. They hope the golf outing to be the main fundraiser for each year so they can concentrate on the program and not if they have enough money or not.

Through sponsorships and golfers, they would like to raise $15,000-20,000, which would feed 150-200 students.

Plans are to add Bailey Lake Elementary, Independence Elementary and Springfield Plains Elementary within the next year.

The cost is $90 per golfer and includes range practice before the scramble, 18-hole scramble, lunch, shirt, awards, a silent auction and a raffle. The cost is $350 for a foursome.

"I would love for this to be a community and school bonding event," said Gualtieri. "I know people will look and say there are people hungry here and people hungry there but we don't have to look very far. It could be two streets down from us or for kids it could be the kid who sits right next to them."

To register, sponsor, or for more information or, please contact Gualtieri at klgualtieri@clarkston.k12.mi. us or 248-625-6963.

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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