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By Sue Sprang

GLADWIN/BEAVERTON – First it was a mobile food pantry, beginning in 2012 and feeding over 200 families once or twice a month. Then came “Backpack Buddies,” a project that targets hungry school children that began in the Gladwin Community Schools District (GCS) in 2013 and expanded to the Beaverton Rural Schools (BRS) District last year.

Both are programs of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

Both were spearheaded by Dawn Wiseman, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Gladwin.

At the time, Wiseman was a coordinator for GCS’s S.P.A.R.K.S. afterschool program. (She now works with the program in Farwell.) Her faith, care for the needy, and love of children are what spurred her to action.

Dawn Wiseman with her daughters Sarah (left) and Makayla – by Bob Frei

Dawn Wiseman with her daughters Sarah (left) and Makayla – by Bob Frei

“The mobile food pantry was making an impact on our community,” Wiseman said, “but there is still a need, especially for our kids.”

As an educator, she is aware of the connection between hunger and learning.

Roughly 70% of the students in the BRS and GCS Districts are eligible for the state’s free or reduced breakfast/lunch programs. This means that during the school week, there is at least one square meal a day.

Then comes the weekend and the cycle starts anew. The kids are benefitting from a week of school meals – but backslide over the weekend.

Monday comes along. The children arrive at school, most likely tired or cranky or dragging – not the best start for a day of paying attention, retaining, producing, and following rules.

This is where Backpack Buddies fits in.

“Every Friday volunteers meet to fill the packs,” Wiseman said. “Each child gets two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners that are nonperishable and provide the protein they need. They also get two snacks.”

The recipients don’t take the gift for granted.

“Some kids help unload the truck,” Wiseman said. “They get so excited to see what they’ll be getting in this week’s backpack – something that is taken for granted by so many of us is such a blessing for them. There is such joy in their faces.”

Of course it takes money and volunteers to make a program like this a success.

This is where Christ the King come in.

Members stepped forward and took ownership, hosting a spaghetti dinner, giving individual monetary donations, and making sure there were volunteers to fill the backpacks.

It takes $100 to feed one child for the school year.

The program received grants from various foundations and from local organizations and individuals. Recently, Christ the King took advantage of a longstanding relationship with the local Knights of Columbus, working alongside them and Backpack Buddies to raise money at the Knights’ monthly fish fry.

Volunteers are from beyond Christ the King.

Packing weekend meals for Gladwin students – by Cari McNicol

Packing weekend meals for Gladwin students – by Cari McNicol

Sarah Kile volunteers with the Beaverton program, going into its second year. (Gladwin begins its third year.) National Honor Society students pack the backpacks.

“This program has reinforced my belief that we live in the most caring place with the most generous people,” said Kile, a member of the Cedar River Chapel, Beaverton. “Last year, 72 Gladwin and 48 Beaverton K-5 students were fed. We hope to increase our numbers this year.”

Scott and Jill Phillips, members at St. Timothy Lutheran Church (ELCA), Midland, have been on board since day one. They also help with the monthly food truck at Christ the King.

“Again [as with the food truck], this witness of service has attracted volunteers from other churches and financial support from unimagined resources,” Scott said. “In retrospect, seeing how these ministries have grown… Never underestimate, never doubt God’s unlimited power!”

In the title photo, Beaverton National Honor Society students fill backpacks. – by Sarah Kile.

Read “Feeding a community” to find learn about the Gladwin mobile pantry at www.mittensynod.org. Go to “Mission in the Mitten” and the April 2015 archives.

Find the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan at www.fbem.org or find one in your area at www.feedingamerica.org.