Blessings in a Backpack

(Angela with students Nicholas and Victoria along with Vice-Principal Mr. Rick Gavin, San Lorenzo Ruiz Catholic Elementary school)

BLESSINGS IN A BACKPACK
Fighting hunger one backpack at a time
By Angela McLean

Did you know that many Canadian children live in poverty and go without food on a regular basis? Did you know that ‘Blessings in a Backpack’, a registered Canadian charity, is helping to fight hunger by providing backpacks filled with food to hungry children?

How does Blessings in a Backpack work?
The concept of the program is simple. The program provides students with a donated backpack filled with nutritious food every Friday to take home on the weekend. The students return the empty backpacks to school on Monday, and the process repeats on Friday. The food gives the students the energy to do their homework and they come to school on Mondays ready to learn. Students test scores, attendance and behaviour all improve and the number of student sick days decrease.

How was the program introduced to Canada?
The program was officially launched in March 2009 with the help of many supporters including the program’s US founder, Stan Curtis, and celebrity supporters such as Olivia Waldriff, Hilary Duff, Tanya Kim and Leah Miller.

How has the program continued to develop?
Blessings in a Backpack could not exist without the sponsors who so generously support the program. These individuals, small businesses, corporations and organizations understand and see the need and are a part of the solution. Their compassion and their actions are what make Blessings in a Backpack successful.

Just to mention a few, the following events have benefited the program:

• Corporate bands from Ogilvy Renault, Royal Bank of Canada and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment held a fundraising event at the Tattoo Rock Parlour

• Austin MacDonald (a young actor) and Hilary Weaver (a singer / songwriter) organized a fundraising garage sale supported by Pace Construction.

(Austin MacDonald and Hilary Weaver)

As well, the program has developed community awareness with the help of its supporters. For example:

• Heritage Orthodontics donated backpacks and opened their offices to accept public donations of backpacks

(Heritage Orthodontics)

• University of Toronto Bookstores are giving coupons worth 20% off new backpacks to individuals donating clean, gently used backpacks

• Mr. Buzz Hargrove, OC and his wife Ms. Denise Small along with their contacts at the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 905 donated backpacks

(Angela with Buzz Hargrove and Denise Small)

• Angela McLean (the author) organized a very successful ‘Backpack Raiser’ and the backpacks were delivered to a school and immediately put to use.

How was the ‘Backpack Raiser’ organized?
I was inspired to do the Backpack Raiser after hearing about the need for more backpacks during the launch of the Canadian program. My idea was approved at school and I also gained the support of both THE MAGAZINE and the author Eric Walters. I was given copies of THE MAGAZINE and autographed bookmarks to use as donation incentives. I spread the word about the ‘Raiser’ by making posters and announcements at school and by talking to local celebrities and to the management of a local mall. In the end, enough backpacks were raised to support an entire school. The backpack raiser was an amazing success! However, the story doesn’t end there. Together with Austin MacDonald and Hilary Weaver, I am continuing to spread awareness about Blessings in a Backpack and we are continuing to ‘raise’ more backpacks for the program.

Are there plans for expansion?
Currently, there are 6 schools (5 in the greater Toronto area and 1 in Sault Ste. Marie) and 600 students in the program. The immediate plans for expansion include one more school in Toronto and one more outside of Toronto. As well, the program has plans in place to continue to expand the program throughout Canada wherever the need is.

How can you help?

1. Organize a ‘Backpack Raiser’.

2. Donate a new or clean, gently used backpack – in the Toronto area you can bring them to any of the following locations:

• University of Toronto Bookstores – St. George, Mississauga and Scarborough locations

• Heritage Orthodontics – the offices are located at:

1556 Dundas St. West in Mississauga, and,
103-83 Mill St. in Georgetown.

3. Donate money – Blessings in a Backpack receives discounted food from sponsors so feeding a single child on weekends throughout the school year only costs $100.00! AND, 100% of every donation is directed towards the program. All donations will receive a tax-deductible receipt.

To donate, you can use: canadahelps.org

Or, you can send your donation directly to:

Blessings in a Backpack, c/o Barry Segal
Suite 3800
Royal Bank Plaza, South Tower
200 Bay Street, P.O. Box 84
Toronto, Ontario, M5J 2Z4

Have questions?
Canada – http://www.blessingsinabackpack.ca
United States – http://www.blessingsinabackpack.org