Waukesha Rotary Club helps feed the need through Blessings in a Backpack

Waukesha Rotary Club members (from left) Maj. Ron Lemirand, Salvation Army, and Karen Tredwell, executive director of the Food Pantry of Waukesha County, pack food that will be distributed to children in need through Blessings in a Backpack before the Rotary meeting April 22.
Published on: 4/30/2013

As a mother of two, Michelle DuBord can't imagine the thought of her children ever going hungry on the weekends.

But for those less fortunate, this is certainly the reality.

That's why when DuBord heard from representatives with the local Blessings in a Backpack nonprofit about the number of the kids across Waukesha County who don't have a healthy option after school gets out on Fridays during the school year, she knew what Waukesha Rotary's next community service project would be.

"When we saw that we could make a difference and provide something nutritious that they normally wouldn't get over the weekend it rose to the top," said DuBord, who is co-chairing the community service project with fellow member Alison Wiese. "When you think about kids going hungry on the weekend, as a parent, or even not as a parent, just thinking about not having access to food, especially with kids who can't do anything about it, we definitely said 'this is the way to go.' "

And so the Rotary partnered with Blessings in a Backpack, a group made up of local volunteers who each Friday fill up backpacks for students who are on the free and reduced lunch program at Hadfield Elementary in Waukesha.

A need at Hadfield

Blessings in a Backpack is a national charity started in 2005 in Louisville, Ky., but as Linda Broyles, program coordinator of the Waukesha County Mom's Blessings in a Backpack chapter, puts it "we are very much still a grassroots organization."

That's because each chapter is responsible for their own fundraising as well as to gather volunteers to manage the weekly logistics of getting food to the schools.

"We chose Hadfield to start our program because the need was so great," said Broyles, who explained the elementary school has around 70 percent of its school population on the free or reduced lunch program.

The backpacks include ready-to-eat food items such as granola bars, peanut butter, tuna, crackers, macaroni and cheese, cereal, applesauce, fruit cups and juice boxes.

Throughout April, Waukesha Rotary members brought these items to its weekly meetings and at its April 22 meeting, they packed bags to be distributed to Hadfield later that week.

Successful first year

Giving the children this backpack each week is so meaningful for Broyles as well as Blessings in a Backpack member Regina Estrada, both on hand at the Rotary meeting.

"It is hard for children to learn when they are hungry and for some of these children, without our help, the last meal they would have is lunch at school on Friday," Broyles said.

Broyles, of Hartland, left the corporate world to help jumpstart this chapter last year and coordinates payment for the food every week, makes sure the food gets to the school and organizes volunteers to get the food into the backpacks. They also fundraise or find a financial sponsor for the program.

Each chapter needs $80 per school child for the year, so groups would need $8,000 to sponsor 100 children for one year.

The group started last year by self funding and supporting 25 children. And it's been a successful first year. As of April 1, Broyles said the group has the funds to support 100 children.

Looking to feed more

But Broyles said it's the group's goal to expand to more schools next year, as she noted that more than 4,600 children qualify for the free and reduced lunch program in Waukesha County.

"Our goal is to stay at Hadfield until we have enough funds to support all the children that qualify and want to be supported and then at that point we'll move to other schools," Broyles said.

To achieve this goal, the group looks to have a successful fundraiser over the summer called "Fire & Ice" at the home of a supporter in Elm Grove that includes cocktails, a dinner buffet, entertainment and silent and live auctions. Planning is still ongoing but admission is $100 per person. Broyles said for more information to contact her at ls_broyles@yahoo.com.

Broyles just hopes the people at that fundraiser are as charitable as the Rotary Club.

"They were generous and wonderful," Broyles said.