Volunteers Shelly Brown, right, and Loretta Shindler organize food-filled bags during the Backpack Buddy Program’s packing party at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission warehouse in Kent on Jan. 4. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Volunteers buddy up to beat child hunger

Rotarians spur effort to bring food relief to students away from school

Children don’t always have enough to eat when they’re away from school.

Recognizing the challenge, the Kent Rotary (Noon) Club and volunteers are doing something about it – one 3-pound bag at a time.

For the second consecutive school year, Rotarians and scores of local volunteers are donating their time to filling sacks of nutritional, easy-t0-make meals for children who attend Kent schools.

The latest packing party was Jan. 4, courtesy of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, which provided its Kent warehouse for volunteers, young and old, to gather and fill bags with food.

In one hour, volunteers filled 893 bags – their biggest party to date – all part of the Backpack Buddy Program.

The community effort provides bags with food to needy children for the weekends when school lunches are not available, serving more than 200 children at six elementary schools – Kent, East Hill, Sunrise, Neely-O’Brien, Emerald Park and Horizon.

With the help of local businesses, volunteers, Rotary and district employees, Backpack Buddies debuted in the Kent School District a year ago.

So far this school year, the program has provided nearly 2,000 bags of food.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to provide for the needy children,” said Axel Henning, a Rotarian who helps organize and direct the assembly-like packing party each month. “They found that when students come to class on Mondays, many can’t concentrate. They were hungry.”

Backpack Buddies is funded through donations, fundraising and gifts and run solely by volunteers. Volunteers meet regularly throughout the school season. Provided with a number of students needing nutritional help, volunteers pack paper bags with nutritional food items meant to supplement what is available at home. Food items vary but may include juice, milk, fruit cups, pasta, soup, granola bars, oatmeal and dried and fresh fruit.

Volunteers also distribute the food bags directly to the schools.

The Rotary Club’s dinner and auction on April 1 at Green River College is a major fundraising event that fuels the program.

The next packing parties are Feb. 1 and March 1.

To donate or to volunteer, visit kentrotary.com or Facebook, or email Henning at info@kentrotary.com.

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