By Richie Carni
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
EAST LANSING—The Weekend Survival Kit program is operating again this school year. The program helps provide for underprivileged elementary schoolchildren by donating backpacks full of food and delivering them to area schools.
Dave Muhleck, owner of Allegra Marketing in Okemos, revived the program after it had been stopped due to a lack of funding and volunteers. Muhleck said the program has expanded greatly since he took over.
“There are 17 schools being served right now in Lansing, Mason, Williamston, Haslett, DeWitt and other areas,” Muhleck said.
John Saltzgaber, a member of the East Lansing Rotary Club and volunteer with the program, said East Lansing children also receive help from the program.
“In East Lansing, we distribute to two schools, and the Kiwanis Club distributes to another school,” Saltzgaber said.
Saltzgaber said the Weekend Survival Kit program currently serves around 1,300 kids, but the number of kids going hungry each night is far greater.
“There are 10,000 children in Ingham County who qualify for reduced price meals,” Saltzgaber said. “Which tells me that there is a huge need for food in the community.”
The Many Hands foundation has collaborated with the Weekend Survival Kit program for the past few years. John Gorsline, co-founder and president of Many Hands, said he could not imagine a better partnership.
“Many Hands provides backpacks and does most of the funding for the program. It is really a perfect marriage,” Gorsline said.
Muhleck said he is also very grateful for the support from several churches.
In order for this to work, we have to purchase the food through a registered food pantry,” Muhleck said. “The Okemos Community Church allows us to purchase the food through their account, and we reimburse them.”
Muhleck said once the food is delivered to Okemos Community Church, he and the volunteers take over.
“The food is transferred with our Allegra delivery vehicles from the Okemos Community Church to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Haslett. They give us space in their basement year round to store our materials,” Muhleck said. “The volunteers then deliver to their respective schools from there.”
Gorsline said the packing sessions, which take place every other Friday during the school year, are very efficient, and the backpacks are assembled. Each backpack consists of non-perishable food such as: pre-portioned crackers, soup, 100 percent fruit juice, pudding cups, mac and cheese, canned vegetables, pasta, peanut butter, granola bars, fruit cups, single-serve cereal boxes, fruit chews and packets of oatmeal.
“In a normal packing session we put together an average of 1,500-2,000 backpacks,” Gorsline said.
The backpacks are loaded into cars and delivered by volunteers to each school. Depending on the school’s policy, sometimes the volunteers distribute the backpacks directly to lockers, and other times the backpacks are dropped off at the main office and distributed by the faculty. Regardless of which method is used, Gorsline said the process is rewarding.
“People have so much fun delivering them that they oftentimes fight over who gets to do it,” Gorsline said. “It’s really an awesome thing.”
Gorsline said the Weekend Survival Kit program would not be what it is today without the incredible support of its volunteers.
“Without all of the volunteers this wouldn’t happen. When you go to one of our packing sessions you really get that, because you walk in and you see so many people who are solely there to pack food for these kids,” Gorsline said.
Outside of the people who volunteer to help, Muhleck said the program often receives help from private companies, as well.
“Kohl’s donates money and sends employees over to help with the packing sessions and deliveries on occasion,” Muhleck said.
Gorsline said the best part of the program, for him, is knowing he, and the foundation, are making an impact on the children.
“The favorite thing for me, is knowing that in some small, or big, way we are making a difference in these kids’ lives,” Gorsline said.