Originally published May 16, 2013.
"Why don't we have it here?"
That's the question Emily Johnson, seventh-grader at Crestview Middle School, asked about the program Blessings in a Backpack after she saw it at work in Fort Wayne.
Johnson began attending Huntington County Community Schools when she entered middle school at Crestview. She had previously been attending Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, where she had volunteered with the program.
"At our school (Canterbury) we would have a day where we packed the backpacks," she says.
"I just knew that Huntington was in need just as much as Fort Wayne."
The program began shortly after Johnson brought it up to her parents, and Andrews Elementary School has been participating ever since.
The program aims to help hungry kids by discreetly placing food into children's backpacks on Friday afternoons, so that they may have food to take home for the weekend.
Currently, the program targets children on the free lunch program. These children are asked to take home a permission slip to participate in the program, and if it is returned with an okay, food is delivered to them every week.
The menu varies but is made up of foods that would be easy for the child to prepare for him or herself.
This includes things like ramen noodles, Easy Mac, Chef Boyardee and Honey Buns.
Superintendent Tracey Shafer says he is impressed by the level of confidentiality and attention to detail that is given to this program.
Dana Meyer, one of the adults involved in the program, explains that the school's guidance counselors and teachers go to great lengths to protect the identity of the students who receive the food.
"We have no idea who they (the students) are," she explains. "All we know is the number (of bags to pack)."
Kris Johnson, mother of Emily Johnson, says, "Our goal is to feed kids that need to be fed.
"Nourishing their minds, and nourishing their bodies so that when they come to school on Monday they are ready to learn and they don't have hungry tummies."
She says it also lets the children know that someone loved them enough to bring this program to the community.
For the remainder of the school year, the program will service not only Andrews Elementary Schools but also Flint Springs and Lincoln Elementary.
The program is rapidly growing, and Emily Johnson says she hopes someday they will be able to help every elementary school in the corporation.
Emily Johnson has had some help from her friends, Hollyn Anderson, and Aliyah Tolley, in getting the charity going.
Anderson and Tolley, also seventh-graders at Crestview, joined forces with Emily after learning about the charity through their church.
The three girls are working with Crestview Middle School principal Chuck Werth to plan a fund-raiser for the charity in the 2013-14 school year.
They say they hope to raise funds by asking students to donate money, with the promised reward of smashing a pie in a teacher's face.
The girls also help pack the bags of food every Wednesday at local churches.
The food is placed in plastic bags from Walmart that are tied once after the food is packed in them. Backpacks are not used because of health and cleanliness concerns, says Kris Johnson.
Walmart is also the store that the food is purchased from.
Meyer says Blessings in a Backpack currently does not receive a discount on the food they buy for the program. Walmart has, however, provided them with a small grant to fund the charity.
Meyer says it costs $95 per student per school year to offer the program, which totals at a need of $9,500 to feed 100 children.
The charity is 100 percent run by volunteers and donations.
Next school year, Emily Johnson, Anderson and Tolley hope to feed at least 300 students, which will cost the charity $30,000.
They hope that organizations such as the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, student councils, Campus Life, and others will help them to raise funds and pack backpacks next fall.
"A lot of adults want to participate, and we really appreciate that," says Meyer, "but we really want to keep this youth helping youth."
The charity is affiliated with the nationwide Blessings in a Backpack initiative.
To learn more about the charity, visit www.blessingsinabackpack.org .
For donations at the website, click the "Donate Money" tab on the right side of the page, and include "Huntington County Indiana Schools" in the comment box.
Donations may also be sent to Blessings in a Backpack Lockbox, P.O. Box 950291, Louisville, KY, 40295. The line "Huntington County Indiana Schools" must be included on the memo line of the check, to ensure the funds are directed to the Huntington Community Schools Corporation.
Complete caption: Aliyah Tolley, Hollyn Anderson and Emily Johnson (from left), seventh-graders at Crestview Middle School, volunteer their time and effort each week to Blessings in a Backpack, a charity that provides food for the needy children in Huntington. The program was brought to Huntington schools by Johnson after she witnessed it at work in Fort Wayne.