Hunger doesn’t take the weekend off. Formerly a teacher and longtime Frederick resident, Hermine Bernstein recalls being at the dentist’s office and reading in People magazine about Blessings in a Backpack being the award winner of the 2012 Charity of the Year.
“I thought to myself, 'I wonder if there’s a problem to this magnitude in Frederick,' she says. "So, I went back home and started doing some research and discovered that, at that time, there were more than 10,000 children in Frederick that were at risk of going hungry when school meals were not available. That number has risen to more than 11,000 today. It is a surprise to learn the extent that this impacts families.”
Armed with the startling statistics, Hermine couldn’t sit back.
“I think it was the first time that I realized how broad the problem was and also the depth of the problem locally. I didn’t realize that. And once I did, it just grabbed my heart, and I just knew this is what I would be doing.”
Hermine founded the local chapter of the national program Blessings in a Backpack. Each week during the school year, volunteers pack nonperishable, kid-friendly, easy-prep food for the kids. The food is enough for each day they are not in school during the 38-week school year. As an all-volunteer organization, 75 to 90 volunteers every week pack in 12 different school locations.
“It is a huge operation. This school year, we packed about 950,000 items of food into more than 100,000 weekend backpacks,” Hermine says. “It’s a true labor of love!”
It costs surprisingly little—$100 to feed an individual child for an entire school year.
“When we go into a school, we make the commitment that we are going to feed 100% of the children who are at risk of going hungry, and so we do. We are in 19 schools in Frederick County and feed more than 2,600 students each weekend with each child receiving the same meal. Ninety percent of what is distributed is purchased, and Blessings also receives about $25,000 worth of food donated by businesses and individuals.
"This is definitely a team effort, and the volunteers come from different walks of life. There are swim and lacrosse teams, Girl and Boy Scouts, youth groups and community groups who pitch in to serve, as well as a large number of people who come to serve every week. I don’t do it alone. It was nothing but a good idea until the volunteers stepped up. Everybody gives back in the way that they are able.”
Thanks to one woman who saw a need and stepped up to fill it, hungry students in Frederick County have Blessings in a Backpack.