Blessings will continue through the summer for students in the Geneseo School District.
The “blessings” are one-gallon Ziploc bags filled with up to 10 food items that provide nutritious meals for children who live in “food insecure households, or for those without consistent access to food.”
Sheryle Vergane and Kathy McClimon, who implemented the Backpack Blessings program in the Geneseo School District in March of last year, have been searching for a means to provide food for those same children in the summer months.
During the school year, the gallon storage bag of food is placed in the child’s backpack on the last day of school each week by school staff.
“Our biggest hurdle was determining how to best distribute the food when the kids are not at school,” Vergane said, “How to get the food into the children’s hands with them remaining anonymous.
“Kids grow a lot in the summer and they need nutritious food,’ she said. “I think the kids are more at risk in the summer because they do not have school providing their breakfast and lunch. Even if we only provided for one child, it would be worth our time.”
The Backpack Blessings committee was approached in the spring by the Geneseo School District asking if they were able to expand the program for the summer.
“Our committee worked with the school district staff as to how we could accomplish doing just that,” she said. “We all brainstormed and now we do have food pickup locations in Geneseo, Atkinson and Colona.
Each child will receive two one-gallon bags of food once each week.
To ensure student privacy, the Backpack Blessings group works with the school district’s social workers to connect the bags to students in need.
“Geneseo Fareway is supplying the food to us at cost,” Vergane said.
Backpack Blessings is a mission of First United Methodist Church, although volunteers from throughout the community have stepped forward to help.
They meet every two weeks to pack the bags.
Vergane said it was in 2010 when she began to hear about “hungry children” in Geneseo, and she knew God was nudging her to help.
When God tells you to do something, you must do it,” she said, and cited scripture from Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
According to her statistics, the national average of children living in extreme poverty is 9 percent, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty in March of last year. The State of Illinois determines the number to be at 6 percent.
“Our average in Geneseo is lower, but is alarming at 2.7 percent,” she said.
Page 2 of 2 - When Backpack Blessings was launched in March of 2011, 39 students were served. The program increased to 64 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2011-12 school year.
Vergane said, “We hope the community will help us fund Backpack Blessings,” adding donations can be mailed to First United Methodist Church, 302 North State St., Geneseo, IL 61254, with “Backpack Blessings” written in the memo line.
For more information about Backpack Blessings, or to volunteer, contact Vergane at (309) 236-6655.
For questions about enrollment in the program, contact the high school office at 945-0399.