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Library collecting for BackPack program

Park Terrace Elementary School second grade teacher Carrie Sweeney packs food for the Gloversville Enlarged School District's BackPack Program. Sweeney is one of roughly 50 district staff members who volunteer their time each week to pack backpacks with food to be sent home with 25 elementary and 25 secondary GESD students for the weekend. The Gloversville Public Library will collection donations of non-perishable goods through Saturday to support the program as part of the state library system's service initiative, The Great Giveback. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Public Library will collect donations of non-perishable food this week through Saturday to support the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s BackPack Program that provides 50 students a backpack filled with food every Friday to share with their families over the weekend.

The library’s collection drive was organized as part of The Great Giveback, a community service initiative through the New York State Library System.

“The mission of the Great Giveback is to provide a day of opportunities for patrons of the public libraries of New York state to participate in meaningful service oriented experiences,” explained Sally Fancher, Gloversville Public Library’s head of children’s services. “That will encourage the community to give back to the community and we can be the hub.”

Fancher said the library learned about The Great Giveback over the summer and reached out to the school district seeking a way to support local students, determining that a food drive to support the BackPack Program was an ideal choice.

“We really want the school district and the parents and the children in the school district to realize that we are here for them, not just for borrowing books, but we’re a resource for them for lots of other reasons,” Fancher said, noting that the school district has long supported the library with activities, events and donations through district organizations.

While The Great Giveback technically falls on Saturday, Fancher said the library will collect non-perishable food throughout the week in a donation bin located at the circulation desk in the children’s department in the building’s lowest level.

Stephanie Cook, GESD’s family and community educator who coordinates the BackPack Program, said donations collected by the library this week will help add to or supplement items provided by the Regional Foodbank to fill the backpacks that are sent home with students every Friday.

“We’re able to provide 50 backpacks a week filled with food to help fill what they call the ‘weekend meal gap,'” Cook explained. “All students in the Gloversville school district can receive free breakfast and free lunch, so we know they can eat when they’re here. Weekends and school vacations could be another story, so they take the food home weekly, and then on vacations there’s extra.”

Food is packed each week in nondescript backpacks supplied by the Regional Foodbank by district volunteers, including teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, principals and other staff members after school hours at two of the district’s five school buildings. Cook said two volunteers from each school are asked to participate in packing each week, but often three or more show up to lend a hand.

“They’re just so involved and such a tremendous team,” Cook said. “The people in this district just absolutely step up and go above and beyond every time.”

One volunteer from each school building serves as the point person, helping coordinate with volunteers and families and placing the backpacks of food in students’ lockers or discreetly handing them off to students on Friday mornings. If inclement winter weather is expected before the weekend, Cook said backpacks are often sent home on Thursdays in case a snow day keeps kids out of school.

Backpacks are meant to be shared by students with their families, but as Cook noted the quantities provided by the Foodbank are divided up evenly between recipients regardless of family size, meaning that a large family may receive just two apples as their share of fresh fruit for the weekend.

“If it were the only thing that person ate for the weekend it might feed one or two or maybe three, but to supplement for the weekend it really spreads across however many people are in the family,” Cook said. “For some families it may provide food that they wouldn’t have, for other families it might help out by freeing up their resources to meet other needs.”

Currently the Regional Foodbank supplies 25 elementary and 25 secondary GESD students with two breakfast items, three entrees, fresh fruit and two snacks each week along with cards for a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs every other week and canned vegetables once a month through the program.

By collecting non-perishable goods, Cook said that larger families can be given additional items or a family that is waiting for a space to open up to get into the program can receive donated items in the meantime.

“The teachers and volunteers know the kids, they know the families, so they know who to throw in that extra can or those extra donated items for,” Cook said. “That’s the flexibility that the donated food allows us.”

Cook said that donations of any non-perishable, kid-friendly food within the expiration date is greatly appreciated. She added that food appropriate for younger siblings, including toddlers, is welcome.

When asked for suggestions of what people could donate, Cook said canned tuna or chicken, canned beef stew and peanut butter or cheese stuffed crackers would all make great protein-rich, nutritious options.

Fancher said that she plans to donate easy to prepare and ready to eat items like macaroni and cheese with pre-mixed cheese sauce, granola bars and flavored instant oatmeal.

“We really appreciate the library doing this. When I received [Fancher’s] email out of nowhere I thought it’s just so great that the library reached out to us just to say in a sense, ‘we’re all serving the same community, we’re all serving the same families and let us do this to support what the school district is doing,'” Cook said.

“By making sure that students are well fed, that students have good nutrition, they can do their best. They can think better, they can perform better academically and they can probably get along with their friends better, the same things all of us do. We know if we haven’t been eating right we just don’t feel our best and we’re not clear in our thinking,” Cook added. “Just as the food from the BackPack Program helps them to do that the donations to the food drive will in turn help us to provide what the children and families need to be at their best.”

The Gloversville Public Library located at 58 E. Fulton St. will participate in The Great Giveback by collecting donations of non-perishable food now through Saturday at the children’s circulation desk on the building’s lowest level to support the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s BackPack Program.

To learn more about the BackPack Program visit regionalfoodbank.net/backpack-program/. For more information about the food drive contact the Gloversville Public Library by phone at (518) 725-2819.

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