For the last decade, a group of volunteers has volunteered to run the Chester Backpack Program, which collects donations to buy food to send home with Chester Elementary School students in need for the weekend. Nancy Clark has been coordinating the efforts for the past several years.
“Two people at the United Church of Chester started it and after I retired seven years ago, I thought it would be a good thing to get involved with; they moved a year later and asked me to be coordinator,” said Clark. “Believe it or not, we have children who don’t have enough food for the weekend. People are surprised by that.”
During the 2016-’17 school year, the program served 12 children, a number Clark has seen rise over the years. In addition to the number of children in need growing, the food costs have also increased, with the weekly shopping now tallying between $75 and $85.
The program is funded solely through monetary donations. Clark is grateful for the support that the program has continually received not only from residents, but from local organizations, as well.
“The townspeople and members of the United Church of Chester are very generous and the Rotary Club is a big help to us as well,” said Clark. “If we are running low on funds, we will make an announcement in church or through the town-wide email and donations come in.”
There are four volunteer shoppers, each shopping one week a month for provisions for the backpacks. Each week the backpacks contain milk, juice boxes, packaged fruit, cereal or oatmeal, and two snacks. The other food varies from week to week, containing items like peanut butter, jelly, and crackers; spaghetti and sauce; pancake mix and syrup; and soup, ravioli, and macaroni and cheese.
“We’ll do fresh fruit when we can, but that has to be bubble-wrapped before it’s packed so it makes it home safely,” said Clark. “We try to provide one thing each week that will feed a whole family. Our shoppers are also very aware of nutritional labels.”
Clark is busy getting ready for the 2017-’18 school year. The school counselor will gather information on those in need and the program will begin by the beginning of October. A group of volunteers gathers each Thursday to pack the backpacks, which are then delivered to the school by a volunteer. The backpacks are sent home with students on Friday.
“We’ll be back in full swing soon. We have the same faithful people volunteering every year and it runs very smoothly,” said Clark, who likes being involved in the program and “knowing these children aren’t going hungry every weekend.”
For information, call Nancy Clark at 860-526-2960 or the church office at 860-526-2697. Donations can be mailed to the United Church of Chester, P.O. Box 383, Chester, CT 06412— note “Backpack Program” on the check.