Kettering Backpack Program keeps feeding students during outbreak

The Kettering Backpack program provides weekend nutrition to more than 600 students, and now with the coronavirus crisis and stay-at-home order in place, donations to the program have been pouring in to help the initiative continue help those in need.
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The Kettering Backpack program provides weekend nutrition to more than 600 students, and now with the coronavirus crisis and stay-at-home order in place, donations to the program have been pouring in to help the initiative continue help those in need.

The Kettering Backpack Program provides weekend nutrition to more than 600 students, and now with the coronavirus crisis and stay-at-home order in place, donations have been pouring in to help those in need.

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The program sends home bags of nutritional food each weekend during the school year to eligible students in 19 Kettering schools.

The program began in 2006 to prevent weekend hunger for students who receive free/reduced breakfast and lunch when school is in session.

The children in the program are identified by school counselors; names are kept confidential. And the need has always been greater than the donations allow, even before COVID-19.

Bonnie Pittl, co-acting executive director of the program, told the Dayton Daily News on Monday that the community has always been supportive when it comes to making sure students who need food assistance get it.

“The program started quite a few years go with 35 students. It started with the Kettering Leadership Academy,” she said. “We asked each class to come up with a project and when they heard about… some of the kids coming to school hungry on Monday, that class decided that they needed to do something about it.”

The Backpack Program kept adding schools to its list until every school in the city is getting food from the program.

“That has increased our numbers and increased our costs,” Pittl said. “We’ve been feeding 600 to 700 kids a year for the last two years.”

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She added that when Gov. Mike DeWine closed schools across the state, the board for the backpack program had no idea how it would find the food to feed the children.

“Our normal supplier could no longer fill our large order as grocery-store shelves were being emptied,” Pittl said. “We have to make daily calls to a variety of grocers, and buy what we can where we can, and that costs more money.”

The program is locally funded by Kettering businesses, churches, individuals and service clubs.

Restaurants started having fundraisers even though they were worried about their own financial health. People started contributing at a surprising rate.

“We never sent out the first ask,” noted Jacque Fisher, co-acting executive director. “They all just wanted to help the children in their community.”

Last week, the Community Foundation for Kettering donated $6,500. Christopher’s restaurant held a fundraiser where its delivery drivers donated their tips, raising $1,400. And Bernstein’s Catering posted on its Facebook page that for every 50 meals it sold for carryout, the company would donate two meals (each meal feeds four people). The company recently increased that number to five meals.

“It is absolutely overwhelming and heartwarming the way the community has rallied around the program,” Fisher said “We want to thank each and every person who has stepped up and helped the backpack program in this special time of need.”

“I get a ding from PayPal when there is a donation to the program and the other night it was just dinging and dinging. It literally brought me to tears to think how many people care and the way they are stepping up to help. It is overwhelming,” Pittl said.

Families interested in applying to the backpack program can go to the Kettering City Schools website and apply for "grab and go" meals.

To donate to the backpack program, go to www.ketteringbackpack.org or send a check to Kettering Backpack program, PO Box 86, Dayton, OH 45409-0086.

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