Volunteers help keep Evanston kids fed over weekends, holidays

Volunteers fill bags with food for the Evanston Hungry Children Backpack Program on Dec. 5. The program helps to feed up to 160 local children in need over weekends and holidays. Pictured are Celeste Olson, Jonathan Deepe, Sean Whetton and Kristina Ruiz. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Three Union Wireless employees — Mike Jackson, Jonathan Deepe and Sean Whetton — spent an enjoyable hour on Dec. 5, filling bags with food for the Evanston Hungry Children Backpack Program. They also brought a tub filled with piggy banks for the backpacks and a check for $500 for the program.

Volunteers with the program had totes filled with non-perishable food items placed on tables in a horseshoe arrangement.  Volunteers could walk around and fill a bag with one of each of the items in the totes. A typical bag would include two breakfast items, two lunch items, two snacks and a fruit. The 110 bags of food were then placed in totes to deliver to each of the Evanston schools.

The backpack program currently feeds 110 children over the weekends and the number has grown consistently over the three years it has been in operation. 

In the beginning, in April of 2014, the program provided food for 12 children in one school. By the end of 2014 and into 2015, 40 children were provided with food. Today, the program fills backpacks with food for 110 to 160 children, K through 12, throughout the entire school district.

As stated on its website, EvanstonHungryChildrenProgram.com, no one should go hungry, certainly not a child. Their mission is to provide easy-open nutritious food to take home over the weekend and holidays. Many families in Evanston lack the resources to provide adequate nutrition for their children. 

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, “Today, more than one in four children lack sufficient nutrition in order to grow, thrive and achieve.”

Last year across the nation where there are backpack programs, teachers have reported improvements in study habits, test scores and fewer absences with children who receive the backpacks.  

Board members for the Evanston program are co-presidents Ken Pearson and Tera Lawlar, secretary Bev Fackrell, treasurer Dawn Worley and volunteer coordinator Kristina Ruiz. Dedicated volunteers who help consistently include Celeste Olson, Susan Williams, Cathy Frame, Suzanne MacEwen and Ann Bushnell. Williams takes charge of preparing the food order for Ruiz, organizing and dating the food items, readying the table with food each week and making sure all the bags are filled.

The program volunteers meet at 5 p.m. every Wednesday at 61 Allegiance Circle to fill bags. Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation can contact any board member or can visit their website or Facebook page.

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