School Year Update: 2014-15

Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge is now in its third year of operation, providing weekend food to children who are at risk for food insecurity during the school year in the Grand Ledge Public Schools. A child who is considered at risk for food insecurity may have inconsistent access to food at home.

Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge is providing weekend food to 240 children in who may be at risk for food insecurity in the 2014-15 school year. While the free and reduced lunch programs feed the impoverished children during the school week, we aim to make sure that these children are fed on the weekends by providing them with a bag of nutritious, kid-friendly food on Fridays during the school year. All children should show up to school on Mondays well fed and ready to learn.

An October 20, 2014, report in JAMA Pediatrics Pediatrics found that one in four children in the US is food insecure. According to the Kids Count in Michigan data, there has been a 53% increase in the rate of children who qualified for federal food assistance between 2005-2012 in Eaton County.

In a December 2013 Kids Count in Michigan news release, Jane Zehnder-Merrell director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, stated that while the recession has officially ended, the toll on children is still apparent because, as research has shown, there is a deep, lifelong impact on children who grow up in poverty due to deprivation in their early childhood years.

Included in the 240 students we provide weekend food to are 16 students that the Grand Ledge High School counselors have identified as beig “couch homeless,” meaning that they live on the couches of friends and family. Principal Dawn Kennaugh at Beagle Elementary School recently discovered that 19 of her students are in transient living situations. Sadly, it was recently reported that there are 31,000 homeless students in Michigan .

Thanks to donations from community members, businesses, service clubs and foundations, we have been able to fund the program again for the 2014-15 school year. In spite of some significant food cost increases, we still have a little left over to add about 15 more students to our program.

If your child is enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program at school and could us some food to tide him/her over on the weekends this school year, get in touch with your school contact and ask for a permission letter that you can fill out and return.

NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin said, “If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.” If you wish to help us conquer childhood hunger in Grand Ledge and Wacousta, please consider us worthy of a tax deductible donation in your holiday giving plans. $100 feeds a school child for the school year (for more information on making a donation, click here )

On behalf of the steering committee of Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge, we wish you a Happy Holiday season.

Tina Erskine, Program Founder


To All the Generous People Who Made It Happen

Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge is grateful for all the community members, groups, clubs, churches, sponsors and grantors who chipped in with time and/or money to make our program happen during the 2013-14 school year. Thanks to their contributions, we were able to provide approximately 8,640 bags of food on the weekends to the children who needed a little something extra to tide them over on the weekends.

While we try to thank everyone publicly throughout the year on our Facebook page and through letters to the editor in the Grand Ledge Independent, sometimes it is important to say it all in one place so that everyone can see what a community-wide effort it takes to make this program a success. We can’t say thanks enough!

Packing Site Volunteers – Working Behind the Scenes

Thank you to our packing site staff who show up at our donated room at the Sawdon Administration Building for 32 Wednesdays during the school year. They manage and buy the groceries, count the bags, prepare the bins for packing the bags, schedule the volunteers and keep the operation running like clockwork:

Bernie Johnson – Site Captain
Fay Schroder – Site Captain
Lyn Danes – Volunteer Coordinator
Dee Campbell – Coordinator Trainee

Logistics / Distribution Volunteers – Getting the Bags to the Kids

How do we get the groceries to the packing site, and how do those bins show up at the schools? Lots of behind the scenes volunteers, that’s how. Rain, sleet or snow (and there was a lot of the latter this year), the groceries were picked up every month and delivered to the packing site, and the bins of weekend food bags were delivered to the schools for distribution.
Thanks to:

-The Grand Ledge Lion’s Club (coordinated by Dave Peake) who pick up the grocery orders every month, and who also help with the distributions to some of the schools (Grand Ledge High School, Beagle, Neff Kindergarten Center).
-The Wacousta Lion’s Club (coordinated by Johnny Maahs) who pick up the bins of bags every week and deliver them to Wacousta Elementary.
-Erin Zulewski, of the Willow Ridge PTO, who picks up and distributes the bags for Willow Ridge.
-The City of Grand Ledge employees (coordinated by City Councilman Rick Lantz) who eagerly signed on this year to take over the distribution of the bags to a new school that we added on this year, Holbrook Early Childhood Education Center.
-The Beagle Distribution Team (coordinated by Reshay Tanasse) who handles the Friday distributions at Beagle.
-Pat Huhn, who delivers to St. Michael.

Program Sponsors – 2013-14 – We Couldn’t Do It Without You!

The businesses, churches, foundations and individuals who have stepped forward with a significant donation ($1,000 or more) to our program during the 2013-14 school year are as follows. We couldn’t do what we do without you! A big thank you goes out to:

Capital Region Community Foundation – Youth Action Committee
Class of 1962 – Grand Ledge High School
The Erskine Family (in memory of “Tim” Erskine)
First Congregational United Church of Christ
Grand Ledge First United Methodist Church
Grand Ledge Lion’s Club
Jeff & Sally Harrold
Jackson National Life
Lanjopoulos Chiropractic
St. Michael Parish
Dr. Scott Stevenson

Fundraising Events – Time and Effort Well-Spent

We had two successful fundraising events this year, and all the people that made them happen deserve a big round of applause!

-The Cruizin’ for Kids Car Show: Thanks to event sponsor PHP Family Care, and our hosts – the Capital City Corvette Club (CCCC). Thanks to Principal Dave Averill (also a CCCC member), Sandy Bechtel (CCCC) and Gloria Reiffer (CCCC and PHP Family Care) for all the effort that went into putting on this fun event. Thanks to the staff at Neff and the PTO for their support and help, too. Also thanks to the steering committee volunteers, relatives and spouses: Deb Peake, Annette & George Ryan, Jean & Mike Folk, Ron Erskine, Bonnie Bucqueroux, and Chris Richardson-Beagle & Mark Beagle for their feet-on-the-ground help that we needed to manage such an ambitious event.

-Caring Neighbor Foundation Golf Outing: The Caring Neighbor Foundation (CNF) hosted this event as a fundraiser for Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge. Thanks to Richard Currier and Chris Richardson-Beagle from the CNF (and incoming chair of BIABGL), who along with Deb Peake from BIABGL, worked together to make this a successful event. Thanks to Steve and Diane Peake, Jeanne Pearl-Wright, and all the golfers who signed up to play on that gorgeous day for making the event a great one.

Grand Ledge Public School Staff – The “Front Line”

From the donation of our packing site by the superintendent, to the secretary who discreetly slips a bag of food into a backpack on Friday afternoons, the Grand Ledge Public School staff plays a huge role in making sure that the kids are signed up for the program and that the bags get into their hands. We can’t thank you enough for caring about the children in your schools in this and many other ways.

Grand Ledge Independent – Keeping the Community Informed

A special thank you goes out to Editor Barb Modrack of the Grand Ledge Independent who is an unsung hero to the charities in Grand Ledge. If it weren’t for her willingness to inform the public about the needs in our community, the work of charities such as Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge would be impossible.

PTOs and PTAs – We Are Grateful For Your Support!

The PTO and PTA organizations in the schools work to support us in many ways, such as volunteering to pack the bags. And this past year, the Willow Ridge PTA donated the proceeds of the popcorn sales for their Family Fun Night to Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge.

2013-14 Steering Committee – 19 People Guiding the Program
Thanks to the Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge Steering Committee for taking time out of their busy evenings to attend meetings and help us make the important decisions for our program. While many of the members take on leadership roles that require a significant commitment of time, others take on functions that they have special talents for, such as letter writing or doing the art work. Thank you so much for everything! You are truly the backbone of our effort.

Note: The web master is fearful that she missed someone who provided a significant contribution of time or money, and would be grateful for an email or call if she has mistakenly done so. Contact: Tina Erskine at / 517-372-3437.

Holbrook Early Education/Preschool Added

Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge began providing bags of nutritious, kid friendly food on weekends to needy children in the Early Childhood/Preschool Program at Holbrook School on November 8.

Research shows a positive correlation between intelligence and behavior with good nutrition in early childhood.

We also provide food to children at-risk for food insecurity on the weekends to the children at Beagle, Delta Center, Neff, Wacousta, St. Michael and Willow Ridge elementary schools. The homeless students in the Grand Ledge High School are also served by our program.

Important 2013 Dates!


September 13: Permission letters go home in elementary students’ Friday Folders. If your child qualifies for the free- or reduced-lunch program, he/she qualifies for Blessings in A Backpack and can receive a bag a of supplemental food on Fridays to tide them over on the weekends.

September 20: Permission letters must be returned to school office.

October 4: First bags go home with the students!

Middle and high school students should inquire at their school counseling office to sign up for the supplemental weekend food.

If you have any questions, please call Tina Erskine at 517-372-3437, or contact your school secretary or the school counseling office.

Coordinator’s Note: Looking Back, Looking Ahead


It’s hard to believe that Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge has been up and running for such a short time as we reflect back on the many things we were able to accomplish this past year.

We initiated the Blessings in a Backpack program in October of 2012 at Beagle Elementary School. We began providing the hungry children there with a bag of kid-friendly food such as tuna, soup, applesauce, raisins, oatmeal, canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and granola bars to tide them over on the weekends.

Volunteers packing the bags at Sawdon.
Volunteers packing the bags at Sawdon.

Because of the generosity of the individuals, businesses, churches and service clubs who donated money to our effort, along with a grant from the Jackson National Fund, we were able to expand the program into all five elementary schools in the Grand Ledge School District in early 2013. By the end of the school year in June of 2013, we were feeding between 250 and 300 students who were considered at-risk for food insecurity on the weekends.

There is nothing more basic and important than feeding a hungry child. Better test scores, improved reading skills, positive classroom behavior, improved health and increased attendance have all been attributed to the success of Blessings In A Backpack programs. “I already see a difference,” a local teacher told one of our volunteers, just two weeks after the program was initiated at her school.

Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge is a 100% volunteer-run, community –supported program. School secretaries, Parent Teacher Organizations, the Grand Ledge and Wacousta Lion’s Clubs, businesses, and community members all gave donations of time and money to ensure that all aspects of the program ran smoothly.

Even 6-year-old Zack Zulewski contributed the $50 he made from a lemonade stand to our program.
Even 6-year-old Zack Zulewski contributed the $50 he made from a lemonade stand to our program.

Every Wednesday, the bags had to be packed, and every Friday the bags had to be delivered to the schools. Our Wednesday packing sessions have become so popular that our volunteer calendar is already booked through 2014!

The parents I surveyed at the end of the school year had positive things to say about the program:

“This is an excellent program and we are very grateful for the help”

“Please continue this program. It gave my child the extra nutrients she needs.”

“The snacks really helped my son who was often hungry between meals.”

“My child felt more independent and cared for knowing that someone made this bag just for them.”


Based on the end-of-school-year numbers in June, we anticipate that we will provide weekend food to between 300-350 hungry students in the Grand Ledge School District during the 2013-14 school year.

We also would like to be able to provide food for about 30 students in the middle and high schools who have been identified as homeless by their school counselors. Because they require more calories than the younger children in the program, we would like to be able to provide them with extra nutrition, contingent on funding.

Due to increased food costs and to ensure adequate nutrition, we are campaigning for $100 per child to fill the food bags this year. Power_of_100

Checks can be mailed to: Blessings in a Backpack Grand Ledge, PO Box 162, Grand Ledge, MI 48837.

Recurring and one-time credit card donations can be made online: Credit Card Donation Information

As the old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Let’s rally around the hungry children in our community again this year, Grand Ledge. Please help us reach our fundraising goal of $35,000.


Tina Erskine

Blessings In A Backpack Celebrates One Year Anniversary!

GlassesBlessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge is celebrating our one year anniversary! Last May, members of local churches, service clubs, business, and community members came together to discuss the possibility of bringing a Blessings In A Backpack program to our community.

At that time over 1500 children in the Grand Ledge School District qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. While those kids are being fed during the school week, we wanted to ensure that these children were being adequately fed on the weekends during the school year.

While the free and reduced lunch programs feed at risk children during the school week, what happens on the weekend? Hunger doesn’t stop on the weekends.

We decided to target Beagle Elementary as our pilot program in the fall of 2012 because of the high percentage of students on the subsidized lunch programs there.
And thanks to the generous support from the community, we were quickly able to expand into all the other elementary schools by the beginning of 2013.

We are currently providing weekend food survival bags to 250-300 children in the Grand Ledge School District.

Every Friday this past school year, the at-risk students were sent home with a bag of kid friendly, non-perishable food such as mac and cheese, tuna, applesauce, oatmeal, canned vegetables, ramen noodles, granola bars and raisins.

All of our staff are volunteers and that’s how we can operate this unique program where 100% of your donations go toward buying the groceries to pack the bags to feed the kids with.

Just about everyone in the community has played a part in Blessings in A Backpack Grand Ledge, and if it weren’t for the many community members who donated time and money to help the at-risk children, we couldn’t have pulled off.

A toast to you Grand Ledge!

Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge Expands…Again!

Thanks to the generous outpouring of support from the Grand Ledge Community over the holidays, Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge will move into all five elementary schools in the Grand Ledge School District as of February 1. Our logistics team (Grand Ledge Lion’s and Rotary Club members) will pick up the largest food order yet so that we can it packed and ready for the February 1 distribution. Thousands of cans and boxes of non-perishable items will be taken to our packing site on the 3rd Floor of the Sawdon Administration Building this Tuesday in preparation for the expansion.

The five schools – Beagle, Neff, Wacousta, Willow Ridge, and Delta Center – will have bins delivered every Friday for the remainder of the school year (except the weeks where the last day of school week falls on Thursday) and there will be no bag distribution on the Friday during spring break as the schools will be closed.

Wacousta Lion’s Club President John E. Maas has taken on the job of scheduling his club members do the transportation of the food bags from the Sawdon packing site to Wacousta for the Friday distributions.

Thanks to all of the wonderful people in Grand Ledge and Wacousta who made this happen.

Expanding the Program in 2013

Great news! Thanks to the community of Grand Ledge and our sponsorship level donors, the Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge fundraising has been so successful that we are already expanding the program in the Grand Ledge School District in 2013 to include Neff Elementary (mid-January); and Wacousta, Willow Ridge, and Delta Center in early February.

How the Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge steering committee decides where to go next is by determining the highest percentage need based on the number of students on the free and reduced lunch program in the target schools.

The pilot program that began in October 2012 was targeted first at Beagle Elementary School because they had the highest number of students who were on the free and reduced lunch program (42%). There are currently 40% of the students at Neff, 30% of the students at Wacousta, and approximately 25% at both Delta Center and Willow Ridge who will qualify to receive the weekend food survival backpacks.

The parents of the Neff students who qualify can expect a permission letter to be sent home sometime in December. The permission letters for Wacousta, Delta Center, and Willow Ridge will be sent home by January 11, 2013.

Let The Packing Begin!

Our Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge backpack/ bag packing sessions are a lot of fun for all involved. Volunteers from community churches, the Grand Ledge School District, Lion’s Club, Mayor Kal Smith, and other packed up to 200 bags assembly line style, packing the heaviest items first and the lightest items last.

Our logistics team, headed by Lion’s Club members Dave & Steve Peake, pick up and deliver a month’s worth of food to the packing site at the Sawdon Administration Building. The first month’s weekly menu consists of beef ravioli, chicken noodle soup and crackers, applesauce, raisins, oatmeal, and a granola bar. We are accommodating a couple of children with allergies and gluten intolerance, and those menu items are carefully selected and packed on an individual basis.

Grand Ledge residents Bernie Johnson and Fay Schroeder are the site captains for the packing operation. They hand out numbered bags to the volunteers, send them through the assembly line, collect the filled bags and place them into numbered bins that are transported to the Beagle Elementary School cafeteria on Fridays.

The Beagle Elementary School children who qualify to receive a bag are dismissed a few minutes early on Fridays so that they can pick up their bags and not be late for the bus. The students have a label with their personal alphanumeric code in it affixed to their “Friday Folders.” School volunteers help the students find their bags and remind them to return the bags in a bin in the cafeteria on Monday morning.

The students arrive at school Monday mornings well fed and ready to learn. The weekly process starts all over and will continue until the last week of school.


Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge: Ready to Roll!

Thanks to our sponsors (click on Sponsorship Level Donors above) and other generous community members, Blessings In A Backpack Grand Ledge is funded for the first year of operations to send weekend food survival backpacks home with the at-risk kids at Beagle Elementary School.    While we are always in need of more funds and are grateful for donations at any time of the year,  we are now  focusing our efforts on getting the program up and running smoothly until our official fundraising season begins again in January for the 2012-13 school year.

If all goes as planned and the food order arrives on time for our October 17 backpack packing,  the first backpacks will be sent home with the at-risk students on October 19.

Not only has has the community stepped forward with funds to make this program happen,  but the response to the call for volunteers for packing the backpacks has been overwhelming.    We have different groups booked on the calendar each week during school year well into 2013.   The response has been so great that volunteer coordinator Lyn Danes is now  putting future volunteers’ names on a waiting list.

You made this happen, Grand Ledge!    Our children are our future.   The whole Grand Ledge community stepped up to the plate to make sure that the at-risk kids at Beagle have something on their plates to tide them over on the weekends during the school year.