Kiwanis Club Thrift Store helps keep kids fed

By MEGHAN McCOY, mmccoy@breezenewspapers.com

POSTED: February 26, 2011

Volunteers gathered at the Kiwanis Club Thrift Store Thursday afternoon to unload two trucks full of food for 650 backpacks for students in Lee County to take home for the weekend.

Foundation President Sam Huber said he began the backpack program two years ago in his living room because, after touring a school, he was amazed at how many hungry children there were in Lee County. On soup day, the students would stuff their pockets full of crackers so they would have something to eat on the weekend, he said.

This news led Huber down the path of making a difference for students in the Lee County School District.

Twenty-five backpacks were donated to Huber, along with $1,000 from the Kiwanis Club, to help kick off the program of filling backpacks full of food for students in 2009. Every time they raised money, it allowed him to expand the program by offering assistance to more students. In no time at all, the program went from 25 backpacks to 200.

“I truly love what I do … this is my proudest achievement in life,” Huber said. “Who knew volunteering would be this much fun?”

The backpacks are filled to the brim with seven pounds of food that costs $4.75 per child, including the cost of the gas to deliver it to the school. Huber said a simple donation of $5 will feed a child for a week.

Backpack chair Peter Garcia said the items that are placed in the backpack can change every week, depending on what the Harry Chapin Food Bank has available at the time. The backpack program currently spends $10,000 a month on up to 5,000 pounds of food from the food bank.

Canned vegetables, a pound of spaghetti and sauce, along with some sort of meat and canned soup, are among the items that are in the backpacks. The children also receive an item from the “mystery bin” once a week, which is a random item they normally would not receive.

Garcia said they want to fill the backpacks because “we really want to feed them (the kids).”

Every Thursday afternoon between 15 and 20 volunteers gather at the thrift store between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to stuff backpacks of food for 850 students who attend seven schools in Cape Coral and North Fort Myers. They were only able to purchase enough food for 650 backpacks this week.

Volunteer Glynn Garramoni arrived at the Kiwanis Thrift Store Thursday afternoon ready to help unload the truck and pack the backpacks. She began donating her time three weeks ago by driving one of the trucks to a few schools on Friday.

“It’s nice to do something for other people,” Garramoni said. She said she enjoys watching the teachers’ and students’ faces once she unloads the delivery of backpacks to a school.

Her 12-year-old son, Max, also began donating his time three weeks ago. He said he enjoys unloading the trucks and packing the backpacks.

When they adopt a school they do more than just feed the children, Garcia said. They also provide personal hygiene products to the children once a month, along with school supplies every two months. “We want to make a difference,” Garcia said. The backpack program is about “taking care of the mind, body and soul,” Huber added.

Garcia said the teachers are their biggest fans because they select the students who would benefit from the backpack program the most. Other students do not know which children are receiving assistance because they purchase common-looking backpacks.

“All that appreciation means the world to us,” he said.

Due to the expansion of the program, the 20- and 16-foot trucks that are used for delivering the backpacks are filled to their capacities. Huber said without another truck, along with more monetary donations, it will be hard to expand the program further.

If another truck is either donated to them or purchased through funds raised, it will provide him with the opportunity to offer the backpack program during the summer.

The backpack program will be moving into a new 4,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Cape Coral that will enable them to purchase a month’s worth of food to save some money, so they can offer more assistance to students.

Two fund raisers will be held during March for the backpack program. On March 16 from 5-8 p.m., a Kiwanis Pot of Gold Party will be held at John Michaels Salon and a Foreign Beer Festival will be held on March 26 from 7-11 p.m. featuring 15 local bars.

For more information contact Sam Huber at (239) 471-9956 or sam.huber@gmail.com.

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