Backpack Blessings, summer food program helps feed Powell’s children

Posted 5/11/23

While Roger Price taught school in Alaska he worried about some of his students, especially before breaks in spring, summer and Christmas.

“Some of our kids didn’t have any food, …

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Backpack Blessings, summer food program helps feed Powell’s children


While Roger Price taught school in Alaska he worried about some of his students, especially before breaks in spring, summer and Christmas.

“Some of our kids didn’t have any food, like, the whole Christmas vacation,” he explained.

The lack of proper nutrition has devastating effects on a student. It makes a big difference in their ability to learn, to stay concentrated and focused on what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.

After eight years in Alaska he eventually moved to Powell. Now retired, he’s still concerned about student nutrition and volunteers for an important program that assists students in Powell schools who might otherwise go hungry during the weekend. Backpack Blessings, operating out of the basement of Union Presbyterian Church for the past 11 years, donates food assistance for students to carry home for weekend meals while, at the same time, keeping students sheltered from the embarrassment they may feel due to food insecurity.

A crew of volunteers, managed by Jackie Hall, arrives at the church Thursday afternoons during the school year to build weekend food packages meant to fit in a backpack and away from the sometimes judgmental eyes of others. The crew fills the orders, delivers them to the schools and teachers load students’ backpacks during a private moment.

The work is done quickly, with many of the volunteers giving the program years of their Thursday afternoons, making for a well-oiled machine. If you find yourself in the wrong place you might get run over. They have to move fast to keep up with a growing demand.

The program serves 40% more children this year than in 2022, growing from 100 to 140 recipients. Price, who taught middle school language arts and social studies in Powell for 11 years, has been with the backpack program since the beginning.

“I feel bad kids have to leave their nutrition [when school isn’t in session]. It’s difficult for the families. This is just one little way we can help,” he said.

The backpacks are filled with food purchased with grants and donations. Hall said it’s not just about getting nutrition to those in need, they also need to serve food children will like.

A recent menu included canned beef ravioli, peaches, chocolate pudding, popcorn, one box of cereal, applesauce, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, and jello.

The program costs about $41,000 per year, according to Hall. They recently received a surprise donation of $5,000 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which helped the program pay for about six weeks of food donations.

The church is committed to serving those in need and it is also committed to cooperating and collaborating with others in that effort, said Deirdre Cozzens, who helps lead church volunteer efforts.    

“The money for these projects comes solely from member donations,” she said. “Organizations often have contacts and distributions already in place so we are able to partner with them to further their good works. If there is an opportunity to partner with an organization to relieve suffering or lift up our fellow man that would be our goal.”

To partner most recently with the Backpack Blessings program was a great opportunity to help many children and families in our community, she said. 

“They do a great service and we were pleased to help them in their Christ-like efforts,” she said, adding, “We can accomplish so much more working together to help those in need than we can do alone.”

The number of those in need corresponds to the summer food program run by Powell Valley Healthcare, which offers a no-questions-asked lunch program through the summer. They had a 50% increase in meals served over the summer, now anticipating serving about 9,000 meals this coming summer (about 165 per day).

Rising food costs and inflation, continuing struggles in the labor market and lingering effects of the pandemic are the main causes of the recent upswing in need, said Travis Tucker, director of nutrition services for PVHC for the past 13 years. The hospital’s outreach program has also increased awareness of the program as they approached schools, day care centers, city rec programs and clubs to ensure folks in need were able to access the program.

“During the summer, many students don’t have access to proper nutrition. There’s a giant gap when school is closed,” Tucker said.

The program is financed by federal tax dollars through the Summer Food Program. The organization took up the cause after seeing the damage poor nutrition causes. Nutrition is one of the leading causes of children being hospitalized.

“It’s also a great opportunity for the hospital to give back to the community,” he said.

The first year of the program was run by local volunteers, but now they have assistance from AmeriCorps, a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health and homeland security.

The program distributes meals at two locations, near the hospital and at Homesteader Park, which piggy-backs with the Powell Rec Department’s summer camp program which runs from June 5 through the end of July this year.

Hall said the idea of Backpack Blessings is a simple solution to help those in need.

“It’s so straightforward. I think [volunteers and donors] are so willing to jump in to help because it’s very easy to relate to,” she said.

In two weeks they will break for the summer, then Hall will round up the volunteers and begin again in the fall. Her job is easy, she said.

“This is a great group. I don’t have to call them, they just come. Everybody knows what they’re doing at this point,” she said.

They are in need of some fresh muscle to help lug heavy loads out of the basement and to Powell’s less fortunate.

To learn more about the program, volunteer or make donations: