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Backpacks that Give Back

Local Nonprofit Benefits Kids in Need

As summer comes to an end, we find ourselves bumping into mountains of “Back-to-School Sale” supplies at every store. With such displays of excess, it’s often hard to remember that there are those who have nothing.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the Bend-La Pine School District had 7,901 students enrolled in the Free and Reduced-Lunch Program. The Homeless Leadership found a 19-percent increase over the last year in the number of homeless youth under the age of 18, and 9,000-plus children and family members received some type of assistance through the Family Access Network (FAN).  The needs are vast to provide stability for these students to have a chance at success in school and life. To that end, schools’ FAN Advocates offer direct assistance as well as referrals to outside agencies for students and their families. One of their go-to partners is Backpacks for Bend.

Backpacks for Bend Created to Bridge Weekend Hunger Gap

Backpacks for Bend was founded in 2009 by Amy Bryant Fraley and her mother, Mary Bryant. The goal was to fill a backpack with enough high protein, non-perishable food that a child would be well-nourished for the weekend away from school meals. The backpacks offered a way to provide food without it being obvious to other students. In 2018, as the program grew beyond the needs of volunteer assistance that Fraley was able to roust up weekly, it became a program of The Giving Plate, a food pantry in Bend that maintains a focus on providing food for children.  “I learned from Mara Stephens, Bend-La Pine School District’s homeless liaison, that 467 kids were registered as homeless this year. It was like a stomach punch,” says Ranae Staley, executive director of The Giving Plate, “We had to get involved.” At the start of the previous school year, The Giving Plate coordinated packing of more than 300 bags of food every other week. Each pack included peanut butter, ramen, apple sauce, granola bars, fruit snacks, oatmeal and pudding. Since many of the students are homeless, foods could not require refrigeration or cooking.

Community Partners Make It Happen

First Interstate Bank is a key partner of Backpacks for Bend. Food is stored in their conference room and once every other week, their employee/volunteers pack sealable baggies for delivery to FAN Advocates who place them in backpacks. First Interstate then donates $10 per hour for each volunteer’s time back to the program for purchasing food and supplies. Supporting programs such Backpacks for Bend creates a path toward success as local children head back to school. Nutrition is the very basic supply these students need to do their best.,