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Blessings for community kids

Blessings backpacks are fillled with food. Photo provided (click for larger version)
June 11, 2014 - BY LAURA DUCHARME

Special to the Clarkston News

Blessings in a Backpack does exactly what its slogan says, it feeds the future of America.

Many families are not able to feed their families during the weekend, including families in Clarkston. BIAB provides food for children who usually don't eat enough during the weekend.

"There is a horrible need in the community that no one seems to know," said Thelma Peterson.

A team of 200 volunteers fill the backpacks each week, take them to schools and place them in students' lockers for the children. Girl scouts volunteer to fill the backpacks once a month and 45 students from Renaissance High School set up the food on Wednesday mornings for packing each Wednesday night.

Meijer provides the food at a reduced cost and Changing Places Moving Company picks up the food for BIAB. The Optimist Club is also a big supporter of BIAB through donations. They have got nothing but positive feedback from people.

"It really is a team effort," said Jess Roeder, co-chair of BIAB.

With so many people volunteering their free time to this organization, it seems like they must have a reason to do so.

"It makes such a great impact on the families," said Marian Perez. "It's one less thing for them to worry about."

Joyce Bleim agreed adding, "We're helping an entire family."

Residents are beginning to see the difference it is making in the community. Laura Larsen, the volunteer coordinator for schools, got 56 volunteers at Sashabaw Middle School when parents saw the impact it had in the classroom.

With more volunteers and donations coming in, it shows that the community sees the improvements the organization has made. To feed one student each weekend for one year only costs $100. When people hear this they are very willing to give them money.

Their fundraisers have been improving each year, as well. On Sept. 28 they will host their 3rd annual "Golfing Fore! Backpack" golf outing at Pine Knob. This year they will have a hole in one contest, which is new. They would love to fill all three golf courses this year, which they were close to the previous years.

Other fundraisers take place throughout the year, including Fashions for a Blessing, Clarkston State Bank Back Roads Half Marathon, Taste of Clarkston and an Alexander Zonjic Christmas concert.

Students are also getting involved. 6th graders from Sashabaw Middle School put on the stepping stone project, where they decorate a stepping-stone and sell it for $10. All proceeds go to BIAB.

Some teachers even donate some of their payroll to the organization. They get about $700 a month from the teachers.

"The teaching community is such a great support system," said Cheryl Whitton, chairperson for BIAB Michigan.

"They know what a difference it makes in the classroom," added Brenda Dupree. These differences include increased test scores, improved attendance, decreased behavioral issues and greater attention spans.

About 330 backpacks are distributed each week, but 1,500 children qualify. Parents have to choose to participate in order to receive a backpack. Right now they help children in the elementary schools, middle school, early childhood center and Renaissance High School. In the fall they will be expanding to the Jr. high and high school. By adding on these two schools, they will be helping the entire district.

According to Whitton, more BIAB programs are opening across Michigan in the fall. After seeing how it affects the children, they are hoping to get even more programs started.

The students who receive the backpacks are thrilled that they have food for the weekend.

"There was a little boy who said 'I get to eat!' when he was told he would be getting a backpack of food," said Liz Porter, chairperson for Blessings in a Backpack in Clarkston. "It brought tears to my eyes, but that's what the program is for."

Seeing how it impacts the children in Clarkston make all of the hours of volunteering worth it. To help, can contact volunteer coordinator Thelma Peterson at 248-528-1060.

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