Community Champion: Blessings in a Backpack Fuels Kids in Central Florida schools
Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics show 52% of students in the United States are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The need in Florida is slightly greater at nearly 59%, but the nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack is making sure students in Central Florida have enough to eat all week long.
“We make sure kids have a backpack full of food to take home on Friday afternoons, so they show up Monday morning nourished and ready to learn,” said Sarah Carlson, the managing director of the Blessings in a Backpack Orlando Chapter.
Millions of students across the country get food during the school week through federal programs, but many of them don’t always know when they’ll eat on the weekends. Blessings in a Backpack works to fill that gap.
Longtime volunteers like Diana Griffin fill bags with a couple of breakfast items, entrees like ravioli and soup, and snacks to sustain students when they’re home on the weekends.
“It is being part of a solution,” Griffin said. “Part of something that’s positively impacting the community, and it’s easy, right? It’s direct, it’s straightforward. It goes right to these kiddos.”
And more students across Central Florida are dependent on the generosity of the donors and volunteers that fuel Blessings in a Backpack.
“We are in 42 schools across Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. We’re feeding approximately 5,700 students every weekend of the school year,” Carlson said.
Approximately three years ago, the group only served 1,600 students in those same counties.
“Families had just started recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, and then we had two hurricanes come through and saw historic flooding, and people lost everything. And now, we’re seeing an increase in grocery prices, and it’s really hitting people’s wallets hard,” Carlson said.
In addition to all the delicious goodies, the students also get an inspirational note in each of their bags written by volunteers encouraging them to do their best.
“It’s a lot of love that goes into packing these gifts. And when they open and see a card, a handwritten card that you are the best or you are loved, that makes a huge difference and we are grateful to the Blessings in a Backpack for taking the time and bringing the volunteers to provide this gift of giving to our students,” said Xhuljeta Gjini, the principal of Metro West Elementary School.
Carlson is honored and thankful for the recognition Blessings in a Backpack has received as a WESH 2 Community Champion.
“We’re so excited. We’ve been around for a few years but feel like we’re not very well known unless you work in the schools. We’re happy to share our mission and we just hope to get more people involved,” Carlson said.