Syracuse, New York
Since Blessings in a Backpack started a program in Syracuse in 2019, as with many schools across the country, it was clear there was a large need. Across the district, Blessings served 100 children each weekend for just about four years.
But this was just the beginning. At the end of 2022 and the start of this year, a more extreme need revealed itself. Across the country, grocery store prices began to rise drastically. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policy, which helped families make ends meet during the pandemic, was revoked in March 2023. This policy had kept countless families afloat during a time of uncertainty, and without it, more children were struggling with food insecurity.
These issues exacerbated childhood hunger in Syracuse. In this school year alone, the community has seen 2,000 families become homeless. The number of students needing weekend food increased from 100 to nearly 850.
“When I come around with the food packs, there are at least five kids every time who say, ‘Can I be added to the program? I really need it.’ So you know, they love it, they look forward to it every week. It’s kid friendly, but also healthy food.” said Patty Sawmiller, a Syracuse School District community school supervisor who oversees the Blessing program.
A call to action was made to the community, asking local families and companies to give what they could to offset the increased costs of adding more children to the local Blessings in a Backpack program. The collaborative effort paid off, and more than $38,000 as donated from supporters in the area to feed kids. When faced with what looked like an insurmountable obstacle, Blessings in a Backpack in Syracuse was poised to rally the community around its greatest asset—its children.
Hurricane Ian, a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, roared into Southwest Florida in September. Since then, the Blessings in a Backpack Southwest Florida Chapter has been busy finding new ways to feed the smallest victims of the storm: the children.
The first couple weeks following the storm, Lee County schools were closed because of the devastation, making Blessings' typical process of distributing food to kids impossible. Blessings worked with other area non-profits to get weekend food to children most impacted by the storm. In just two weeks, the chapter distributed over 10,000 bags of food, concentrating in all hardest-hit neighborhoods.
In addition, the students of Fort Myers Beach Elementary were displaced after the school was destroyed in the storm. Blessings worked hard to locate the students who were now attending San Carlos Elementary, and with the kindness and monetary support of First Foundation Bank, they were able to continue feeding all the kids who were relocated.
Since then, Blessings in the area has only grown. They have begun serving four new schools and over 600 more children on a weekly basis. When the challenge of a lifetime arose, Blessings in a Backpack Southwest Florida did not blink. They just got to work, continuing to serve the kids they know and love.