Backpacks for Girls in High School Serve Charity Purpose

A marvelous piece describng how a ‘buddy’ program can give additional value to backpacks for girls in high school.

While parishioners from Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church of Odenton were involved in helping Odenton Elementary Schools students in a variety of projects, they couldn’t help but notice some children were hungry.

Rev. Linda Coolbaugh of Nichols-Bethel had heard of “Backpack Buddies” being used at other schools, and with the help of Odenton Elementary Principal Tracey Ahern, the program began at Odenton Elementary in the fall of 2015.

Backpack Buddies is a free program that sends food home with children who may not otherwise have enough food to eat over the weekend.

When the program first began, Wegmans of Waugh Chapel donated $25 and 25 bags. Planet Fitness of Bowie saw the post on Facebook and donated 50 bags.

Meredith Long, a bubbly mother of four from Gambrills known for her pink hair, began volunteering. However, she knew there must be other hungry children so “I just started making calls,” she said.

Long approached Arundel Middle School Guidance Counselor Lacey Wallace. Wallace was immediately on board. In 2016, Backpack Buddies began at Arundel Middle.

However, Long was not done. At a monthly “Coffee with the Principal” at Arundel High School this year, Long approached Principal Gina Davenport with the idea of bringing backpack buddies to Arundel High. Davenport agreed but created a new name, the Arundel Food Pantry.

Long was put in touch with Arundel High Guidance Counselor Julie Cochran who was supportive of the food pantry.

“It’s so sad to know kids are only eating at school or hungry,” Cochran said.

While the program is run by Nichols-Bethel, the community has stepped up to help: The Four Seasons Community Association donated $200, The School of the Incarnation’s Girls on the Run program donated food, a local dentist donated toothbrushes and toothpaste, and Arundel Middle’s Family Consumer Sciences teacher Amy Rosendale donated all the fresh produce left over from recipes the students made.

Dawn Tudor, a Nichols-Bethel church member who assists Long with backpack buddies, also runs Service Unit #637 for all the Girl Scout Troops in Odenton, Severn and Gambrills. Tudor mobilizes Girl Scouts for assistance when needed.

However most of the food is still provided by Nichols-Bethel church members. Backpack buddies needs for the week are posted in the church’s bulletin and members donate every week.

Long contacts the school guidance counselors each week to determine how much food to provide. Odenton Elementary receives four to 10 bags each week, Arundel Middle receives five to seven, with extra going to a family of eight, and Arundel High receives eight to 15 bags a week.

All backpack buddies and the Arundel Food Pantry student recipients are confidential.

“We don’t know who gets it and the teachers and administrators don’t know which kids either,” Long said.

Bags and backpacks are filled with food to create meals with, but also treats children and teenagers enjoy, including granola bars and individually wrapped packages of cookies and chips.

Long says the community can help by donating food or starting a collection for the schools on their own.

“Doctors can set up boxes in their offices or you could start your own food drive and bring it in,” Long said.

Long’s goal is to expand to kids in need and “keep getting bigger and bigger.” Long hopes to expand to summer deliveries…

More on the backpack buddy program at:

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