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Back the Pack gears up for another year of weekend snacks for students

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MASSENA - When the new school year opens for students Thursday, volunteers from the Back the Pack Committee in Massena will be ready.

The organization, which was formed in the summer of 2011, provides healthy, hearty weekend snacks for children in need at Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale elementary schools, as well as Trinity Catholic School. They unpacked three truckloads of the items last week at their storage facility on East Orvis Street, representing the first month of food, and now it’s a matter of packing them into individual servings and taking them to the schools when the doors open for the 2012-13 school year.

“We start Sept. 21 with the first distribution at all four schools including Trinity,” Committee Chairperson Julianne Paquin said.

She said Back the Pack is providing healthy snacks for approximately 250 children each week, with more than 4,200 packs provided for the 2011-12 school year.

The goodies include cereal, cheese crackers, peanut butter crackers, pudding, fruit and Pop Tarts.

“We buy what we can afford. We anticipate providing 10,000 packs for the 2012-2013 school year,” she said, noting that 51 percent of the students in the local schools receive free or reduced lunches.

They’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings last summer when a few volunteers met to talk about forming a group that was partnered after a similar program in South Carolina, where the idea originated.

Their goal was to gather monetary donations, food donations or sponsorships so they could provide healthy, hearty weekend snacks for children in need when school meals were unavailable.

The group gathered the items, put them in Ziploc bags and distributed them to the school. Madison Elementary School was the pilot school starting in October, and Jefferson, Nightengale and Trinity were added later.

School counselors identify children in need, and they’ get authorization from those parents to let the students participate in the program.

Back the Pack teams deliver food to the schools on Wednesday, and the teachers put the bags into the students’ backpacks every Friday so they’ll have the snacks to munch on over the weekend.

“I had no idea” how well the program would be received, Mrs. Paquin said. “I was hoping, but who knew. We started out last year with a group of four of five women and a post office box. People have jumped on the bandwagon, and we have 40 volunteers now. I am just so overwhelmed.”

Fundraisers are an integral part of their effort, she said, and they have several coming up.

They’ll be at the Harvest Festival Saturday in downtown Massena with information about their efforts and selling souvenir sports cups with logos for teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball and college. A $5 donation gets one cup, and buyers can also purchase a set.

“We’re selling them in partnership with the high school Football Club,” Mrs. Paquin said.

There will also be a Trivia Night Sept. 29 at the Massena Elks Lodge, a Michigan Hots Night Oct. 5 at American Legion Post 79, spaghetti dinner Oct. 28 at the Italian-American Club, and they’ll also be selling coupon booklets during the BonTon Community Days sale on Nov. 9-10.

In addition, all money raised through this year’s 12th annual The Dam 4-Miler sponsored by the New York Power Authority will go to Back the Pack. That event is scheduled for Saturday at the Frank S. McCullough, Jr. Hawkins Point Visitors Center.

As an added bonus, Mrs. Paquin said they had received a call from a Home Depot representative who had heard about their efforts. The representative asked them if they were interested in free storage bins, which were no longer in the company’s inventory and were destined for the trash bin. Those bins are now at the Back the Pack facility.

“Somebody told them we could use them,” she said.

All money raised goes to the food, Mrs. Paquin said.

“There are no administrative costs associated with this program. Because we have no overhead costs, all donations go directly to purchase food for hungry kids,” she said. “We appreciate the support of the community.”

The committee is always looking for more donations, whether it’s food or money. All donations are 100 percent tax deductible, according to Mrs. Paquin.

They’re looking for items such as breakfast bars with no nuts or peanuts, Pop Tarts, single serving cereal, cheese sandwich crackers, fruit cups, fruit snacks, pudding cups, raisins, dried fruit and gallon-size Ziploc bags.

Items can be dropped off at Simply You on East Orvis Street or the Hoot Owl office at 35 N. Main St.

Checks can be made payable to Back the Pack, P.O. Box 16, Massena, N.Y., 13662.

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