Backpack Blessings serves students during challenging times

by Claudia Loucks correspondent

It’s been a challenging year for Geneseo’s Backpack Blessings program, but the goal remains the same – “To provide tasteful, nutritious meals for children in the Geneseo School District who live in food insecure households, or for those without consistent access to food.”

Sharon Carton, who serves as co-director of Backpack Blessings with Lisa Hammerlinck, said, the program has been available to students during the current pandemic, but admitted it “has been challenging.”

When Geneseo schools closed in March because of Covid-19, the meals were distributed at the distribution sites used by the school district…”We took meals to three of the district sites every Friday,” Carton said, and added that getting the weekend meals to the students in that manner was not as successful as when classes were in session and the food was distributed discreetly every Friday to the students in need.

“When classes were remote, some of the distribution sites picked up only 10 bags and we never passed out more than a total of 30 or 40 at all three sites on any one Friday,” Carton said.

When Backpack Blessings was launched in March of 2011, 39 students were served. The program now serves approximately 100 students and Carton said she expects to see an increase in the New Year.

Each “backpack” or sack includes enough food for a weekend – two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, two pudding cups, two fruit cups, four granola bars and two juices.

During the school year when classes are in session, the food bags are discreetly placed in the child’s backpack on the last day of school each week by school staff. The program continues in the summer months when the food bags are left at distribution points.

During the summer of 2020, the food was distributed on Fridays at the Geneseo High School tennis courts.

“Distributing the meals worked well at the high school because we were there at the same time the Lunch Box program distributed meals to students and people could pick up the Lunch Box meals and then drive to our set up to get the Backpack sacks,” Carton said.

To ensure student privacy, the Backpack Blessings group works with the school district’s social workers to connect the bags to students in need.

Carton’s daughter, Sheryle Vergane and Rich and Kathy McClimon implemented the Backpack Blessings program in the Geneseo School District in March, 2011.

Vergane stepped down in 2015, and Carton then stepped up to take her daughter’s place.

Lisa Hammerlinck, left, and Sharon Carton are co-directors of Geneseo’s Backpack Blessing program which provides weekend meals for students in the Geneseo School District who live in food insecure households.