PORTLAND, Mich. — An assembly line of good takes place every Tuesday in Portland, Michigan. Volunteers help put together weekend meal kits to be delivered to Portland Public Schools to help feed students when they are not in school.
Carrie Thayer helped to organize the volunteer group several years ago.
“When my daughter was in early preschool, around the age of four, I noticed that when she would come home, she was always hungry. It was like her first complaint. She was always hungry," Thayer said. "So, being the mom, I'd say, 'Well, what did you eat for lunch? Did you have any snacks?’ And she would always say, 'I had lunch, but someone stole my snacks.'”
Thayer says her immediate thought was to make extra snacks and distribute them to her daughter's teacher.
“So, for the remainder of the school year, every time those snacks ran out, I replaced them, and then that started my crusade to see who else was out there that we could help,” she said.
Thayer says she made snacks and dropped them off at the school for several years. Then, she met Michelle VanSlambrouck through a mutual friend.
VanSlambrouck had just been at a local restaurant and overheard a conversation about kids with behavior issues in school. When she heard hunger was the primary issue, VanSlambrouck said she felt compelled to act.
“I'm sitting there and hearing about this, and I'm like, well, let's do it! Why are we waiting for somebody else to do it? And at the time, I was helping an elderly gentleman and went and talked to him about what was happening. And he said, 'You get this thing going, you've got your first $5,000,'” VanSlambrouck said.
The two women discussed their similar goals, and they decided to create the nonprofit Portland Backpacks for Bellies. Thayer says it's satisfying knowing they are helping.
“We provide meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner plus snacks Saturday through Monday morning,” she said.
Thayer and VanSlambrouck say food insecurity in the community continues to grow. Volunteer Doug Logel delivers the packages to the schools weekly and says he sees the need.
“In mid-Michigan, you wouldn't think there's a need here, but there is," Logel said. "We have an astonishing number of food items that we deliver every month, every week, about 150 meals, and we've been doing that consistently since the beginning."
Thayer says they give the food to teachers, who then put it in a shopping bag or the kid's backpacks.
“Here, we have numbers, but the teachers have the names. That is to help you eliminate that stigma and stereotype. They put them right into their lockers or backpacks, so when the kids are ready to go home, they have their food for Friday evening," Thayer said.
She even gets her young son involved, and he says he loves it, and Thayer says she feels like she is helping.
“We did something good here,” she said
We agree! And want to say thank you to the volunteers of Portland’s Backpack for Bellies, who are this week’s Good Neighbors.
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