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Volunteers stuff backpacks to end hunger

Published 4:35 pm, Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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  • Volunteers stuff backpacks full of food in support of the "Blessings in a Backpack" program started in New Canaan and benefitting students at Stamford-based Trailblazers Academy. The aim of the organization is to provide nutritious weekend food for students on the federal free and reduced price lunch program. Sept. 25, 2013. New Canaan. Photo: Tyler Woods
    Volunteers stuff backpacks full of food in support of the "Blessings in a Backpack" program started in New Canaan and benefitting students at Stamford-based Trailblazers Academy. The aim of the organization is to provide nutritious weekend food for students on the federal free and reduced price lunch program. Sept. 25, 2013. New Canaan. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Volunteers stuffed soup cans, pudding snacks and granola bars with swift efficiency into maroon and navy backpacks in a New Canaan home on Sept. 25, as part of the "Blessings in a Backpack" program.

The bags were distributed to more than 100 students at the Stamford-based Trailblazers Academy, a charter middle school for kids who have not succeeded in traditional academic environments, to help ensure they would have nutritious food to eat over the weekend.

Blessings in a Backpack is a national organization that provides food for children on the federal free and reduced-price lunch program over the weekend. It provides weekend meals to children in 544 schools in 42 states.

Two New Canaan residents, Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer, are the first to start a program in Connecticut, acting as co-directors.

"I'm passionate about kids and hunger," Knight said. "I think it's ridiculous that in our country there are kids who don't have food. It's such a small thing to fix that helps so many other parts of life."

Domus, which organizes programs to help more than 800 underprivileged kids in the Stamford area, runs the Trailblazers Academy in coordination with the Stamford Public School System.

"Our kids usually have a single mom who works over the weekend. This provides meals they can prepare, rather than going down to the corner store," Garland Walton, the chief of staff at the nonprofit organization Domus, said. "Junk is cheap. You can get food from McDonald's for a dollar. We're trying to give kids healthier options on hand so they're not tempted to go for junk."

A 2009 study on the effects of poor school performance listed food insecurity as one of six non-academic factors. Arizona State University professor David Berliner compiled the study "Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success."

"Food insecurity still was recorded in more than 10 percent of U.S. households, affecting about 13 million homes that had difficulty providing enough food for all their members," according to the study. "More seriously, about one-third of the food insecure households, totaling about 4.7 million households and representing just over 4 percent of all U.S. households, were classified as having very low food security, a category representing more severe deprivation. And in over 20 percent of the households with very low food security, one or more members reported that on three or more days per month they had nothing to eat."

The New Canaan-based Blessings in a Backpack co-director Tina Kramer said $150 could provide enough food to send a student home with a full backpack every weekend.

"We raised $22,000 for the project," she said, listing some of the items stuffed into the backpacks.

"Two breakfast items, packets of oatmeal, a box of rice, a can of beans, a vegetable, and some type of pasta, like macaroni and cheese."

The pair succeeded not only in fundraising, but in getting volunteers, about 20, to help do the important work of putting the food in bags. At the event, there was a well-formed assembly line, with women passing along bags and double checkers at the end of the line, inspecting to see that each bag had each item.

"I was interested in benefiting community as a whole," Courtney Bombeck, a volunteer, said. Bombeck is a friend of Knight's and jumped at the chance to help in a tangible way. "It's much better doing something you can see benefit of rather than sending a check in somewhere."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews