by Emily Armentrout
After traveling to Mexico on a mission trip, Wabash local, Jenny Wilson, knew that there was a mission waiting for her somewhere. Knowing she could not travel to Mexico every year to serve, Wilson set out on a search for a mission she could begin in Wabash County.
“I wanted to do something that would help our local kids and I just started researching,” Wilson told The Paper.
Wilson found Blessings in a Backpack, a national program that “provides elementary schoolchildren who are on the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal Program with a backpack of food to take home for 38 weekends during the school year,” according to blessingsinabackpack.org. Wilson approached the principals of the three younger elementary schools in the area, O.J. Neighbours, Southwood Elementary and Metro North, and she was met with great enthusiasm.
“They were so excited. All three of the principals I contacted were like, ‘Yes, definitely. This is something that we need.’ They were very, very excited and they’ve all been so helpful,” said Wilson.
Wilson and volunteers pack approximately 420 grocery bags every week of the school year. That number is up from the 300 bags the program was filling in Wabash County last year. The grocery bags include items that are easy to prepare. Wilson purchases groceries from Bechtol’s Grocery, but also from food banks around the area. Items like granola bars, juice boxes, Mac and cheese, oatmeal and fruit are added to the bags every week.
“The food we get is amazing. We get apples and oranges that are beautiful,” said Wilson.
This year, Wilson has been able to stockpile food because Kirtlan Automotive has donated their warehouse for Blessings in a Backpack’s use. Wilson is able to store food and pick up whatever is needed on a weekly basis to fill the bags.
Blessings in a Backpack meets every Thursday evening at Trinity Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. to pack bags. Depending on the number of volunteers, packing usually only takes about an hour. Wilson has everything so organized on tables, that it has become an assembly line of groceries.
“We have it so down pat with our system. It’s in and out. The more volunteers the better,” said Wilson.
Blessings in a Backpack is also looking for volunteers to help deliver the bags to the schools on Friday mornings.
“It’s not something that people are aware of, but I feel like more and more people are understanding what we do and who we serve. I just had a bus driver stop me at the school. She said there’s a little boy on her bus who gets on every single day and he asks her, ‘Is this the day I’m going to have food in my house?’ It’s definitely needed. It only takes $80 to feed a child for the whole school year,” added Wilson.
Blessings in a Backpack is funded through the community. They hold a golf outing in July and sell tenderloins in June. The United Fund supports the program, and it recently received a grant from the First United Methodist Church.
This program is not something Wilson believes she could do alone.
“Steve and Pat Brubaker have been amazing help to me. They set up for me each Wednesday and they do a lot of behind-the-scenes work that nobody really knows about. I couldn’t do it without them. I also want to thank Mike Bechtol, Kirtlan Automotive, and everyone who has donated,” Wilson told The Paper.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating to Blessings in a Backpack, contact Jenny Wilson at 260-571-4001. Again, Blessings in a Backpack meets every Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Wabash. If you are interested in donating, you can send checks to Wilson at 499 S 475 W, Wabash, IN 46992. Checks can be made out to Blessings in a Backpack.
“All the money that is donated stays in our county, so every single cent that our community donates stays in our local schools,” said Wilson.