Essay Project 2021: Portland Backpacks for Bellies in the Covid Era and Beyond
By: Elizabeth Seavey
According to feedingamerica.org, one in every 7 children struggles with hunger, a statistic that is sadly true even in our town. But, Portland Backpacks for Bellies was created to solve this very problem. Covid-19 has made the fight against child hunger even more challenging. Here is how PBB has responded and what plans they have in store for the future.
“The age that I am in, is good.
People say, nine is to learn and play.
And all I can understand is food.
I am hungry.”
No doubt, the founders agree with the sentiment expressed in this poem written by Shiva Dainak, instead of focussing on their hunger and worry over their next meal, they want the children of Portland to be able to enjoy their childhood and focus on learning. The non-profit organization, Portland Backpacks for bellies, was the brainchild of Michelle VanSlambrouck, Carrie Thayer, and Holly Blastic, who saw the need for a change in our community. The community “rallied” behind the idea and they received an outpouring of volunteers. Much of the funding for the organization comes from the following organizations, Homework’s People Fund, Ionia County Community Foundation, The Ronald Mcdonald House Charities (RMHC), Delta Dental, Consumers Energy, and Montcalm/Ionia United Way. Thanks to their charity, PBB is able to purchase food and supplies to make meals and snacks to last the whole weekend. Since early 2019 they have managed to distribute 6293 bags of food which means, 12,586 breakfasts, 12,586 lunches, and 18,879 dinners. Currently, they average about 120 bags weekly, to children and families in need all throughout the community.
Covid-19 presented a challenge for the young organization as they tried to maintain supplies and determine their role in feeding children who could no longer be served through the school Since all schools were closed and distribution at school was no longer an option. “Initially when covid started we ran into supply & shipping issues. Luckily we were well stocked from our Spring Break food drive. We were able to pack over 500 bags in anticipation of an increased need,” says co-founder, Michelle VanSlambrouck. However shortly after the schools shuttered, The government-funded programs through the schools to provide meals for students at home. As a result, PBB was able to put a pause on their distribution until summer and work on building up a supply and funding for the rest of the year. Therefore, the concerns over supply were short-lived, they were able to fill their shelves as the food supplies became more available. By June, PBB introduced curbside pickup for anyone in the community that needed it. So over the summer, they were able to support the kids and their families through the PBB program and partnerships with the Portland Food Bank and Portland Public schools food services.
PBB’s goals for the future might seem contradictory at first glance, on one hand, they would like to replicate the program in other nearby communities and counties, on the other hand, they would like to eliminate the need for the program in general. Co-founder Michelle Vanslambrouck says, “ Ideally our goal is to eliminate the need for our program. We feel that by drawing more awareness to local poverty it will help foster a desire to eliminate it”. If you would like to do your part and help make these goals a reality or for the latest information check out the Portland Backpacks for Bellies Facebook page for information regarding pick-up announcements, opportunities to volunteer, and the most updated information in general. Or email them at email@example.com.
I got my image from the portland Backpacks for Bellies Facebook page, I got permission from Michelle VanSlambrouk to use any of the photos.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.