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Backpack program ready to take a bite out of weekend hunger

St. Helens Lions Club partners with United Methodist Church to feed low-income students over weekends

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Hank Calhoun speaks at a St. Helens Lions Club meeting. The Lions Club is partnering with First United Methodist Church to send meals home with local students.The St. Helens Lions Club will be partner with First United Methodist Church to help get the St. Helens Community Backpack Program up and running for a new school year.

In conjunction with the Lions Club International Children’s Dignity week, members of the club wanted to volunteer in support of an ongoing community project.

Hank Calhoun, the Portland-area Lions Club district governor, picked a project the club had already been occasionally helping. While the international service week only runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, Calhoun wanted the local project to be “something that would help kids all year.”

The backpack program allows students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches to take home nutritious food over the weekend. Each bag of food contains enough for two breakfast meals, two lunches, two dinners and four snacks.

Jenny Smyres, who volunteers at the church, said volunteers may put an extra food item in a bag to help a larger-sized family, depending on available supply and need.

“This was a project we’ve already been involved with,” Martin Larson, St. Helens Lions Club president, said. “We just wanted to really step up our involvement.”

The church has been involved in the backpack program for three years and has its own storage facility for the food it uses in the lunch bags. The Lions Club members intend to install more shelving in the church as a major part of the service project.

Calhoun said the event is only the first step in an ongoing effort of the club to be more regularly involved with packing lunches and distributing them to school sites. While bag distribution will not begin until October, volunteers are already beginning to collect donations and prepare.

Volunteers with the backpack program will be able to provide weekend meals for 70 students at McBride Elementary and Lewis & Clark Elementary schools, an increase from 50 students last year. Calhoun hopes to be able to help 100 students by Christmas.

“We say it’s helping 50 students, but really it’s 50 families,” Cahoun said. “It makes me feel good that we can really help these folks.”

With 12 volunteers and weekly bag distributions, Smyres said more people are always welcome to help by making donations, packing bags, and visiting school sites. Calhoun said at least two members from the Lions Club have signed up to be regular weekly volunteers throughout the school year.

“We usually get a good response from the kids,” Smyres said. “They’re often excited to get the bags and see what’s in there.”