The Backpack Society provides hope through food
Article and photo by Elean Gersack
June Everett and Laurel Gebhard are community heroes with huge hearts. A little over two years ago, Everett was experiencing career burnout and decided to change course. With memories of food shortages in her youth, she decided to create a food assistance program. She wanted to reach students, school staff and their families all without the embarrassment and stigma that can often come along with food insecurity. She called it The Backpack Society (BPS).
BPS started in Everett’s garage and supported a few students at ThunderRidge High School. Within a few months, Gebhard, a fellow mom and friend, joined Everett, and the two have been growing and expanding the program ever since, making significant and meaningful impacts to the community.
“Hunger can hit anyone. It doesn’t matter where you live,” shared Everett, adding that people in affluent areas are more reluctant to reach out for help because they don’t want to be different. BPS is very conscious of that fact. They use several ways to help ensure food is available to those who need a hand for a few days, a few weeks or longer.
BPS is currently partnered with 31 schools, including Rock Canyon High School and Rocky Heights Middle School. Most of these schools have food pantries and BPS keeps them stocked with snacks that are always available for students. The snacks are name brands so they are on par with the norm – an important BPS ingredient for removing stigma.
In addition to the snack pantries, meal bags can be delivered to students at participating schools (the bags can also be picked up at the BPS office near Broadway and County Line Road for those who are home schooled or if they attend a nonparticipating school). These bags, referred to as “student bags” offer ready to prepare nonperishable food staples for the weekend and even extended breaks such as fall break, spring break and holidays.
On Thursday evenings, families can pick up “family boxes” curbside at the BPS office. These boxes have a larger selection of items, including fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, meat, milk and eggs and can also be customized to meet specific needs, such as allergies. Everett and Gebhard continually go above and beyond to ensure things like toiletries, diapers, and even birthday celebration items are available as requested.
“It feeds my heart and soul,” Everett said tearfully as she described the abundance of families who write cards or send donations once they are back on their feet. “They cry, we cry,” added Gebhard.
BPS relies on adult and teen volunteers to help sort food, fill bags, boxes and pantries, and deliver items or load them into vehicles. However, during the Thursday evening pick-up sessions, BPS only allows adults to volunteer so school staff feel comfortable accepting assistance without the possibility of seeing any students.
Next on the horizon for BPS is an additional program called Client Choice. Families will have the ability to come inside and shop for a more personal and autonomous experience. Everett and Gebhard hope to have the program up and running in the next month or so and look forward to welcoming families to this new offering.
To learn more about BPS, visit www.backpacksociety.org. If you or someone you know needs food assistance, click on the “School Partners” link. To sign up to volunteer, click on “volunteer” tab. The Backpack Society is always appreciative of monetary and food donations. Simply click on the “donate” tab to learn more.
Please join us! The Castle Pines Connection will be hosting a food drive for The Backpack Society on Saturday, March 26, from noon to 4:00 p.m. in the former Safeway parking lot near Castle Pines Parkway and I-25. Items requested are: Canned tuna or chicken, pasta sauce, mac and cheese bowls and boxes, instant oatmeal packets, Chef Boyardee/SpaghettiOs, fruit cups, canned soups, chili, cereal and jelly. Thank you in advance for your participation and support!