What is Snack in a Backpack?
Snack is a unique program specifically focused on the children in need of nutrition on the weekends. Behind the scenes, volunteers prepare bags of food to be distributed every Friday to the high school, middle school, elementary schools and North Star (out at the high school).
On any given Wednesday you can find anywhere from 12 to 20 people packing close to 400 bags of food for the kids. Each bag weighs close to a pound so 400 pounds of food gets set out for distribution prior to packing. Each volunteer enters an assembly line. Each item of food has at least one volunteer to pack, one apple or orange prep person to remove any bad fruit, plus we have 2 bag fluffers (we get 400 unused plastic grocery bags from the local grocery stores every week or 1,000 at a time), 2 bag tiers, 2 people who break down the boxes, Hervey and one more volunteer to break down granola boxes and tear off the “Box Tops for Education” that our product sometimes has, someone (1 or 2) to open granola boxes (19 cases a week), someone to load the boxes in the back of a pickup to be taken to recycling each week, myself and one other volunteer to prepare 12 to 15 allergy bags, someone to gather and throw away trash, someone to reload product as the assembly line runs low on an item, a milk counter who counts out the number of milks needed for any given school to ensure a correct number of bags every time, and our packing coordinator who sees the whole process through.
We can have up to 25 volunteers and everyone still has an important job to do. Many volunteers struggle to do 2 or 3 of these duties at a time and we make it work but it is nice when 20 show up on any given week! We welcome the crowd and we all have fun. The entire packing process takes just under an hour.
We house 10 pallets of food. Every 2 months we receive a delivery of 3 tons of food which is loaded onto these 10 pallets by hand. Each pallet gets stacked shoulder high for easy access. If you can picture 10 pallets shoulder high of food, that is what we receive to feed the children every 2 months from the food bank. That is $8000 worth of food every 2 months.
Items is easily accessible for the children so if they are hungry they can eat these things immediately. They get 2 non-perishable milks (usually 1%), 2 bowls of cereal which is a crispy rice or toasted oat cereal right now, a can of protein (which can be chili, beans and franks, lasagna or something along those lines), applesauce which replaces the pudding that is not always available, an easy mac-n-cheese meal that is made with water in the microwave, 4 fruit and grain bars like a strawberry Nutrigrain bar for example, and 2 fresh apples which are donated by Mercier Orchard through most of the school year. So each child gets 7 different foods in the bag or 13 items that is an approved amount of nutrition for 2 days. $2.46 per regular bag for each child. That is our cost from the food bank. The Chattanooga Food Bank has an entire wall exclusive to the backpack programs. These items have to be individual servings of food and non-perishable. This is why the cost is so high.
Deliverers come on Thursday’s and Friday’s to pick up anywhere from 7 to 120 bags for each school. We try to rotate 4 teams per school to reduce burn out so each couple or team of 2 deliver once a month. The deliverers are a completely different set of volunteers from our Wednesday crew which I think is very interesting. It is wonderful and much needed so it works out for everyone. Blue Ridge Elementary, East Fannin, West Fannin and Head Start all require 4 teams and the middle and high school need 1 person each week which is a total of 40 volunteers needed. We also started a fill-in list this school year to help when one volunteer cannot take their day. Right now the program is down to less than half of the deliverers so definitely needing more assistance.
Each month these numbers are sent to the Chattanooga Food Bank so they can keep track of the children we serve in this county. This helps the food bank and Snack when it comes to applying for grants and asking donors for money. Snack also raises money through fundraising efforts like our annual event Bringin’ the Blues to Blue Ridge. We also set up and have volunteers man the booth at the Arts in the Park festival in Spring and Fall. We have the newsletter that I write and distribute through a bulk mailing every quarter to inform our current and potential donors of what we are doing and where we are headed. We have established some programs to help the kids like Project December where each child will get a brand new backpack to keep at Christmas filled with food, toys, and toothbrushes. We have the 365 Elite Club for businesses and individuals. This project helps run the program for $1 a day and helps businesses with a plaque presentation in the newspaper. The plaques are really nice and read “I Joined the Fight Against Childhood Hunger” which is intended to be displayed for all to see to help spread the word. The 110 Club feeds one child for an entire school year and helps us purchase food from the food bank. Each person who joins receives a nice certificate showing they provided food for a child for an entire school year.
As we continue into the program we will use our skills and education to enhance the program even more. Right now, we write and print the newsletter, design and create all flyers and posters, and come up with new and exciting ideas to help the program grow so that we can do even more for the children.
Our donors have come forward and donated printers which saves the program quite a bit. For example, the newsletter cost $330 to be printed. That is 1,000 copies in draft form. We now print them in house for $111 for better quality copies. That is 1/3 of the cost. The computer and printer at the office was donated by one of our directors, Ann Lam.
Snack in a Backpack’s Board of Directors: Ann Lam is our bookkeeper. Every month I email her a spreadsheet with all expenses and income and she reconciles it with the bank and puts this all into QuickBooks for us. She donates all of this time to the program and it is a very valuable contribution even though she works behind the scenes. Ann is our treasurer. Here is her bio: Ann is a retired software engineer who has worked for Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard for 25 years where she designed and implemented accounts-receivable systems, information databases, and company websites. Ann also spent several years in the Atlanta area as a fulltime singer-songwriter, an activity which she continues today. She holds a B.A. in mathematical statistics and music from the University of Florida and an M.S. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1995 she returned to Georgia Tech to study sustainability, and in 1998 created a non-profit company, Ecocosm Dynamics, Inc., with a Georgia Tech professor to research the cause of the world’s environmental crisis. Ann and her husband, Jerry, live in Atlanta and maintain a second home in the Blue Ridge, GA, area.
Carl and Diane Pruitt serve as our vice-president and assistant secretary. The two of them provide a great contribution to the program, largely in the area of fundraising. Carl manages a radio station near Atlanta and plays in several bands as well as manages them. Carl and Diane’s ideas for fundraising efforts really gives Snack the upper hand when raising money. They do other functions thoughout the state and can give us the feedback we need to have a successful event every time. Our last Bringin’ the Blues’ to Blue Ridge event is a perfect example. We were limited to 120 people but still managed to raise over $10,000. Carl brought the band “Rollin Bones” to perform at our event and everyone loved them. These things add up when you are trying to raise money for a private organization that relies mostly on the community for support with the occasional smaller $1500 to $3000 grant.
Kim King has been with the program from the beginning. She is now serving on the board as secretary and acts as a signer for Snack as backup. Her wealth of knowledge of Snack is very valuable in teaching me which direction I need to go in each area. Her history of the program gives me insight to what has been. This helps me create what will be in the future. She does so much for the community and for those in need.
Our newest board member, Angela Huffstetler, also served on the charter board of directors. She currently works together with her husband, Tim, part-time as managers for Holiday Retirement Independent Living Communities. In 2014 Angela & Tim were awarded the Touch of Excellence Award for Managers. Angela also is the sales representative for Appalachian Country Living Magazine. Angela has worked for the Cobb County School District where she was instrumental in opening two elementary schools. She also worked for Hearst Integrated Media, as Advertising Coordinator. After moving to Blue Ridge she worked for the Blue Ridge United Methodist Church as Administrative Assistant. With her husband Tim, she was the Co-Owner of the Blue Orleans Bistro restaurant.