Community Foundation program helps needy kids

Courtesy photo Jen Wheeler, head cook at the Mid-Peninsula School, is shown preparing a backpack with food items for a student in the school’s and Community Foundation for Delta County’s Backpack Feeding Program.

ESCANABA — The non-profit organization, the Community Foundation for Delta County (CFFDC), has been providing students in need with weekend backpacks through its Feed-The-Kids Backpack Program for area students who may not be getting a sufficient amount of food at home.

According to Gary LaPlant, president and CEO of CFFDC, the current backpack program is modeled off of a program that began in Mid Peninsula Schools.

“In 2014, we found out Mid Peninsula Schools had taken on a backpack feeding program,” explained LaPlant.

After talking with then superintendent Mary Brayak, LaPlant said he recognized there was a “great need” for food assistance for students in Delta County.

Realizing the need, the foundation decided to expand the program into six other public schools and one private school in the area. With help from donations and other fundraising efforts, the CFFDC is able to fund the program, noted LaPlant, adding 100 percent of the money goes towards the backpack program.

The six public schools that currently provide backpacks to students in need include Rapid River, Gladstone, Bark River-Harris, Mid Peninsula, Big Bay de Noc, Escanaba. The seventh school is Holy Name Catholic School.

Backpacks are also provided for lengthy school breaks including Christmas vacation and spring break at Escanaba schools, noted LaPlant. Escanaba also provides a summer meal program for students.

The backpack program is completely confidential, said LaPlant, as the foundation does not know who is receiving a backpack.

However, CFFDC does work with school district employees including the head cook and staff, principals, superintendents, and school nurses to get an idea of how many students that will need a backpack over the course of the school year and during school breaks for funding purposes.

Funding for the program has varied over the years, explained LaPlant, adding most recently the program has seen a spike in costs due to more students in need of assistance.

To help alleviate some of the costs, LaPlant said the schools have partnered with the Michigan location of the non-profit food bank, Feeding America, to provide food.

For determining funding, the foundation takes the number of students in need in each district and multiplies that number by $255 — the average cost to fund a student in need at the Mid Pen School District, explained LaPlant.

CFFDC then provides 35 percent of the total funding to the school districts. The other 65 percent is provided to Feeding America, which allows the school to get the necessities needed for the backpacks from the food bank.

Depending on the number of students in need, the CFFDC provides upwards of $80,000 a year towards the Feed-The-Kids program.

“The Community Foundation Board of Trustee’s set up the program as a public service to support students,” noted LaPlant. “Since its inception in 2014, the foundation has not charged a fee for this fund. As a matter of fact, the funds are invested and actually earns interest which adds to the fund.”

Volunteers from and around the various school districts help fill the backpacks, noted LaPlant, adding he and the foundation board are very grateful for their hard work and dedication to the program. LaPlant also thanked all of the sponsors of the program including the John and Melissa Besse Foundation and many others.

Anyone interested in donating to Feed-The-Kids: Backpack Program can make checks payable to the Community Foundation for Delta County with a memo distinguishing the money is for the program.