Backpacks of Hope gears up to serve

“I founded Backpacks of Hope last August (2012) because I wanted to help get Puget Sound students involved in fighting childhood hunger in Tacoma,” said President and Founder Jasmine Kaneshiro.  Backpacks of Hope is a volunteer program on campus that helps students get involved with feeding hungry kids in the Tacoma and Clover Park School District. Backpacks of Hope works directly with the Backpack program that is run through St. Leo’s Food Connection. Though they are separate, every student who volunteers for Backpacks of Hope will work for the Backpack program through St. Leo’s.
The Backpack program in Tacoma is a part of a nationwide agency that, working with local organizations and communities, helps provide these at-risk kids with a dependable source of healthy food when they are not at school.
Puget Sound students offer the constant volunteer force that is needed by this program to pack food and distribute it to the various schools with which the program works. Puget Sound volunteers would pack meals Monday through Wednesday and then help distribute the backpacks Friday. The backpacks go to the schools, which then distribute them to the children that need them the most.
Backpacks of Hope does offer rides to students, trying to make it as simple as possible for volunteers to get where they need to be. “I wanted to start Backpacks of Hope in order to make it easier for students to volunteer at St. Leo Food Connection (even if they don’t have a car) and help children achieve their fullest potential in school,” said Kaneshiro.
The Backpack program in Tacoma started just eight years ago, working with just one school and helping only fifty kids. Their widespread success is due in part to a dependable source of organized volunteers from the community, such as Backpacks of Hope. Now, the Backpack program feeds approximately 630 children every week and works with 25 different schools. These schools are chosen because they have about 70 percent of their students on the free or reduced lunch program.
The meals that the Backpack program provides each week are enough for two days–Saturday and Sunday–and consist of carrots, water, granola bars, and other kid-friendly, healthy food that will last through the weekend.
“We could not be able to serve this population as effectively without Backpacks of Hope,” the Children’s Feeding Program Coordinator for St. Leo’s Food Connection Quentin Cole said.
“When children are hungry, they have difficulty staying alert in class and are often unable to do as well on tests or assignments,” said Kaneshiro. 25 percent of children in Washington live without food security, and the Backpack program provides that security to those kids when they are not in school.
Students interested in volunteering should email Jasmine Kaneshiro at backpacks@pugetsound.edu or visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/BackpacksUPS. Backpacks of Hope is currently looking for drivers for Wednesday and Monday afternoons.
Students are encouraged to join Backpacks of Hope, but if that does not work with their schedules and they still want to volunteer, it is possible to work directly with St. Leo’s Food Connection in order to find a time that works.