Students from North Wasco Virtual Academy take a break from loading up food they donated to the Community Backpack Program, a church-run program that provides a weekend’s worth of food to local homeless students. The kids also donated $1,175 cash to the program. Contributed photo
The local church-run backpack program that provides a weekend’s worth of food to around 40 homeless students each week received some substantial donations this month.
First, students at North Wasco Virtual Academy raised $1,175.25 cash, and also donated 55 pounds of food to the program, said co-manager Glenis Schreffler. Then in the largest food donation the program has ever gotten, YouthThink donated 311 pounds of food, she said.
That food came from donations to the Saturday movies at Columbia Cinemas, where entrance is free but movie goers are asked to donate two food items.
Schreffler, who co-manages the backpack program with Linda Elsberry, said the donation from the Virtual Academy, an online education program through North Wasco School District 21 that also offers in-person instruction at the Wahtonka Campus, was the first time a school had approached with a donation.
“It was fun to have the kids in there,” she said of hosting the kids on a tour of the pantry at First United Methodist Church, where the program is housed.
“They asked all kinds of questions. Getting them in there and letting them support the community is important,” she said.
They visited on a Thursday, when the backpacks are packed and readied for distribution on Friday.
They even worked some math into it to get a sense of how much good their cash donation would do. Shreffler said students calculated that if 35 backpacks went out each week for four weeks, and each backpack contained enough food for six meals, then that represented 840 meals.
The cash donation would “feed the kids for sure for a whole month, and probably a month and a half” or two months, she told the visiting students, who were at all grade levels.
The check they presented will be used to buy food at the Mid-Columbia Regional Food Bank. The dollar goes much further there than at retail prices, Schreffler said.
She was shocked by the dollar amount. In a photo taken of her and others receiving the check, she said,
“My mouth is hanging open because of the amount that it was,” she said.
The program is distributing between 33 and 42 backpacks each Friday to kids at the three public elementary schools, the middle school and high school. Employees from the elementaries and middle school come to the church to pick up the backpacks and distribute them.
The high school backpacks are usually picked up by a student and taken back to the high school for distribution, she said.
Schreffler said the students aren’t homeless in the strictest sense of the word, but are couchsurfing, or staying at other people’s homes.
The backpack program started in spring 2013 at the high school.
By January 2014 it had extended to the middle school and by fall 2014 it was at the elementary level.
It started with an idea to feed high school students each Friday at the Methodist Church, which is just across from the high school.
The high school food program director nixed that idea, but suggested starting the backpack program instead, Schreffler said.
The backpack program is also in existence at other gorge communities, she said.
Locally, it is a project of eight churches and two sororities. The churches are First United Methodist, Zion Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, Calvary Baptist, Gateway Presbyterian, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, United Church of Christ Congregational, and St. Paul’s Episcopal.
Beta Sigma Phi, preceptor Alpha Epsilon, a local sorority, also supports the program.