Project Backback making strides
PB Team started for Manawa students
By Ben Rodgers
It took five years, but hungry students in Manawa are finally being fed.
This school year is the first for the Manawa Project Backpack team. The group joins Project Backpack across 12 schools from four other districts in the area to provide food for students in need over the weekends.
“It took us five years and a lot of prayer,” said Saundra Coyle, Manawa PB Team project coordinator.
Coyle and Bobbi Jo Pethke wanted to bring the program to Manawa since 2011. Project Backpack began in 2010 through Shepherd of the Lakes Church in Waupaca.
It took five years and a combination of Coyle’s motivation and Pethke’s contacts to organize volunteers and raise the money to get Manawa PB Team off the ground.
“They’ve done a really good job hitting the streets and rallying the community to financially support this program,” said Paula Thuerman, Project Backpack program coordinator. “They’ve been a great group to partner with.”
Coyle saw the need in Manawa because she works with children after school.
“I’ve been part of after-school program – Good News Club, it’s a Bible study program – for 10 years,” she said. “Even in the hustle and bustle of kids coming in after school I heard bellies growling and I thought, ‘When is the last time I heard a belly growl?’”
Project Backpack sends food home over the weekends with students selected by the guidance department. Food typically consists of a sleeve of saltine crackers, tuna, a pudding cup, a fruit cup, maybe pasta or other quick and easy things to make. It also includes a voucher for a free half gallon of milk and a loaf of bread from the local grocery store.
“Sometimes the simple things are the things people don’t realize and pay attention to,” Coyle said. “They don’t realize how important a sleeve of saltine crackers can be to a hungry kid.”
Right now about 40 students in the district use the program. That comes out to packing 1,440 backpacks a year.
“Project Backpack has filled an essential, basic need in the School District of Manawa,” said Dr. Melanie Oppor, district administrator. “With roughly 40 percent of the district’s population relying on free or reduced breakfasts and lunches at school, it was alarming to think that children may not have enough to eat on the weekend or over school breaks.”
The cost for each student, factoring in the milk and bread vouchers, is roughly $300 per school year, multiply that by the 36 weeks in a school year and the program in Manawa costs $12,000.
The entire Project Backpack covering all five districts and 14 schools costs $55,000 per year to run.
Shepherd of the Lakes Church applies for grants and currently has more than 40 area businesses that help run the program. Plus there is a partnership with 12 area churches.
The program also relies on more than 250 volunteers to fill the backpacks, drop them off at the schools, pick them back up, shop for the food, stock the shelves, and label the food products.
The Manawa PB Team originally operated with Manawa C.A.R.E.S, but has since teamed up with the school district, which has opened more doors for fundraising opportunities.
Coyle and the Manawa PB Team are looking to raise the majority of funds for next year at an event this summer.
The Manawa PB Quackers Duck Race and Family Fun Day will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 3 at Lindsay Park in Manawa.
The event will feature musical entertainment, concessions, tournaments for children and of course the opportunity to adopt the winning rubber duck for a chance to win the grand prize of $1,000.
With the funds raised from this event Coyle hopes to raise enough money to supply 50 students with backpacks for the upcoming school year, as the need is not decreasing.
“That’s the sad part,” Coyle said. “There is a need when we are the richest nation, but we have kids that go hungry.”
If Manawa PB Quackers is a success this year Coyle would like to help other communities who are part of Project Backpack put on a similar event in their cities.
“If little Manawa can do their part and take care of their kids, what’s stopping Waupaca, which has a much bigger population, from doing a few small things and one big thing to help their program?” Coyle said.