Backpack program provides weekend meals to hungry kids

May 9, 2019

By Pat Maurer

Sara Lewis and Alicyn Johnson with the help of volunteer Bonnie Walter are new faces at Clare’s Backpack Program.

Assistant Bonnie Walter is shown here with Alicyn Johnson and Sara Lewis. They are the new faces for the Clare Backpack Program.

Lewis and Johnson, teachers at Clare Middle School, work in the CMS library.

They are taking over the program from Margaret Zinser, who is in the process of retiring.

They are wrapping up the fifth year of the program, which provides weekend meals for Clare Primary and Middle School youngsters who might not get a nutritious meal on the weekends otherwise.

Zinser, who started the program in 2016, said in an earlier interview, “I started after watching a PBS program about it in McBain. I checked into the school to ask if Clare had such a need. To my surprise, we sure did.”
She said she started filling backpacks in October of 2014.

Some of the food collected to fill backpacks for needy Primary and Middle School students in Clare.

That first half year they fed about 22 kids, mostly in the Clare Primary School, but also their siblings in Middle School when there was a need.
The kids in need are identified by classroom teachers who know which kids need some assistance.

A letter is sent out to them asking if they would like to be involved in the program.

Some backpacks are filled only for one youngster, some for two and sometimes for up to three youngsters in the same family.

Jim Paetschow provides a room in his storage building north of Clare to store the non-perishable food items. Money and food is donated by many people throughout the community and the non-perishable food items are stored.

One student donated enough to fill 17 backpacks by asking for donations instead of birthday presents this spring. Once packed the backpacks are distributed to needy students.

The backpacks are filled with cereal, pancakes, peanut butter and jelly, packaged or fresh fruit when they have it or “find a good buy.” They add tuna, noodles, soups, spaghetti, chicken dinners, fruit snacks, crackers and cookies if available. Generous donations from local businesses and individuals help fill the backpacks.

“These kids NEED this program,” Lewis stressed. “We are here for the kiddos and it’s just one more thing we can do to help make their lives a little better and fill their tummies.”

She added, “We don’t do this for recognition but for an awareness to bring more donations for food. We cannot do this for them without help and there are SO many people willing to help that have said they didn’t know this was a program, so if we can make more people aware, the better for the kids.”
Lewis said they fill anywhere from 17 to 52 backpacks in a week. “Jim Paetschow loans us his pole building so we can fill the backpacks and we haul them back and forth to school to deliver them. We have also started a small pantry in the high school for kids to come and get some items as needed.”

“We feed up to three kids per backpack depending on the need at home,” she added.

Lewis said generous donations a few weeks ago added Easter treats (jellybeans) to the packs and that one student, who did not wish to be named, decided that instead of gifts for her birthday party she would ask everyone to bring and item to donate to the backpack program. “We filled 17 backpacks with that one donation,” she said.

Anyone can help out. Donations can be made at the Clare Primary School office or delivered to the pole building located at 8700 S. Clare Avenue next door to Mobile Medical Response Ambulance Service by contacting Alicyn Johnson at 989-400-2639 or Sara Lewis at 989-621-2784.

Another great fundraiser for the backpack program is coming up. Wood’s Household will once again host a “Movie Night,” to be co-sponsored by Jim Paetschow and held this year at the Tobacco Ranch Event Venue, located just north of the bridge over the Tobacco River in Clare.

More than 200 attended Wood’s Household’s first annual North Light Movie Night to benefit the Clare Backpack Program and brought in a lot of food donations and over $1,000 in cash benefitting the program.

Many other events are planned throughout the year to benefit the Backpack Program in Clare.

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