Blessings in a Backpack, a collaborative nonprofit community service group, provides roughly 352 needy children from Galesburg District 205 with food for the weekend when they leave school on Friday, a major increase from the 45 that the group initially served when it was founded in 2010.
The Knox chapter is part of a larger national organization, which provides nearly 60,000 children in the United States with food supplements through public partnership and funding from the private sector.
The group attributes much of its success to its collaboration within the community.
“There are a lot of ways that our organization could benefit from collaboration,” explains President and sophomore Lindsey Morgan. Although the group itself has no religious affiliations, the Galesburg chapter has partnered with First Presbyterian Church, where the food is sorted by volunteers from the college as well as the church each week.
Blessings has formed another strong partnership with Hy-Vee grocery stores, where the food is purchased.
“Hy-Vee has been just fabulous with us,” says Lecturer in Educational Studies Joel Estes, the group’s faculty advisor. Volunteers from Blessings will often bag groceries at one of the two Galesburg locations, where they also collect donations. Last fall, group volunteers worked with Hy-Vee, selling cinnamon rolls at the store, with a dollar being donated towards the group’s cause for every package sold.
Blessings has also found success collaborating with other organizations on campus. The organization will be the beneficiary of Alpha Phi Omega’s Runathon this spring. In addition, members of Blessings now collaborate regularly with members of the Knox Corps FISH Food Pantry and Knox Prairie Community Kitchen, other successful feeding organizations on campus. The Knox College’s Athletic Department has even reached out to the group, as it attempts to promote the involvement of athletes in community service.
Individual members of the Galesburg community have begun to take notice of the progress being made by Blessings in a Backpack, and their support is beginning to show. The group reports that it has received several private donations. Their most recent donation, a check worth $8,000 from a Galesburg resident, is by far the largest private donation to date. The resident, who requested to remain anonymous upon her donation, had recently inherited money and wished to spend the money on an important cause. According to Estes, the woman expressed concern after attending a presentation for Blessings in a Backpack.
“She was furious that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, there are hungry children,” explained Estes.
Student volunteers help make Blessings in a Backpack possible. The group is served by an executive board of students along with about 40 regular student volunteers.
“It speaks very highly of Knox College students and young people in general,” said Estes, who admires the philanthropy being demonstrated by students who are already overburdened with their studies.
Blessings currently serves Cooke, Nielson, King and Steele elementary schools, four of the six local elementary schools in the Galesburg area. The group manages to feed each child on a budget of just $2.10 a week, amounting to $80 per child each year. Even with its rapid success and expansion, the organization falls short of supplies serving these four schools alone, with some families who have requested assistance from the organization on a waiting list.
“There’s probably a need to feed 800 kids in this town É it’s just a matter of raising the money,” says Estes.
Although the group hopes to someday have the ability to help feed all local elementary students in need, expansion is considered a long-term goal.
“Although we’ve grown, we don’t want to get in over our heads,” said Morgan, who explains that blessing’s main concern is successfully feeding the children that are already being sponsored, before expanding the group’s outreach. Blessings in a Backpack has successfully raised funding for this year and reports that it is well on its way to raising necessary funds for next year.