By Emily Lynch
GRAND LEDGE- Providing weekend food for needy kids in Grand Ledge is in full swing for 2013.
Tina Erskine, the chief fundraiser for “Blessings in a Backpack” introduced the program to Grand Ledge last May after realizing about 1,700 area children are on the reduced or free lunch program.
Blessings in a Backpack provides weekend food for elementary school children who would otherwise not be able to eat. The organization ensures each child with a bag, rather than a backpack, full of food that will feed them while they are not in school.
“One of the most important things about this program is that these kids are getting fed,” said Erskine.
Erskine was not sure how fast the program would take off, but the help from the community has been endless, she said. When it was started there were not many services for hungry children because nobody really knew about the poverty problem, she said.
“People really came out of the woodwork,” said Erskine. “It all happened because of the community that really cares about this stuff.”
Erin Zulewski, a volunteer who picks up and delivers food to Willow Ridge and Delta Center elementary schools, knew she needed to get involved after watching a program with her 6-year-old son. It explained how the economy has so negatively affected families. She immediately wanted to do something for the kids at her son’s school.
“People at no fault of their own lost their jobs and can’t find one now, hopefully it’s just a temporary thing,” she said.
The program is offered to all students who qualify for the reduced or free lunch program, but many parents opt them out, said Erskine. The reason for this is parental pride as well as parents wanting to save the food for children who really need it.
This month, the bag each child contains a box of macaroni and cheese, a can of green beans, a can of tuna, oatmeal, applesauce, hot chocolate and peanut butter crackers.
The program has expanded to all five elementary schools in Grand Ledge. It started at Beagle Elementary, and is now offered to Neff, Wacousta, Willow Ridge and Delta Center said Grand Ledge Mayor, Kalmin Smith. It only costs $80 a year to supply a child with enough food for the weekend because “the organization gets it from suppliers real cheap,” he said.
Blessings in a Backpack provides weekend food for 250 elementary children in Grand Ledge each year. The organization hopes to eventually expand to Hayes Middle School, said Smith.
“Grand Ledge as a community is really good at getting together,” Smith said as he boasted about the togetherness of the small community. “There is a benefit to individuals when they do things for others.
Erskine and Smith agreed the charity has done more for the community than just help the hungry children; it has brought a lot of community members together that wouldn’t have otherwise known each other.
With a smile on his face, Smith said, “I’m real proud of the community for doing this, but not surprised.”