by Minda Davison, Director for Communications
When a few members of Gilbert Lutheran Church in Ames decided to participate in the READing to End Hunger book study and read Exodus from Hunger by David Beckman, they had no idea the journey the Holy Spirit was starting them on. While reading Beckman’s book, the Des Moines Register ran a series of articles about hunger in Iowa. The group learned that around 9% of students, or 40 children in each building, were “food insecure.” Knowing that the students were receiving breakfast and lunch at school they began to think about what happens over a weekend, holiday breaks, and summer, and how they could help.
“So much potential is lost when a child is malnourished. Based on the information we had received, we knew we had to do something,” said Jerry Holtan, book study participant and Backpack Buddies volunteer.
With the help of school counselors and administrators, and faith in the generosity of their congregation the Backpack Buddies program was started last January. The response from the congregation and the community has been very positive, “When we began this program, we had not one cent. The first Sunday we shared this program in a mission moment during worship, we received $2,343.11 in the offering plate!” said Lyn Peterson, Backpack Buddies volunteer. The program has also been the recipient of grant support from Story County, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Most recently the intermediate school in Gilbert sponsored a food drive and donated over 1,200 food items to Backpack Buddies.
The program began with 13 children and has grown to serve 30-35 children. The food is stored at the church in a room that is shared with the adult bible study group. Fifteen volunteers shop, inventory, write menus, bag, and deliver the food bags. Each bag is filled with nutritious food items and include fresh fruit and shelf stable milk. Every Friday counselors discreetly deliver the bags to each student. Over the summer families come to the church once a week to pick-up their food bag.
There is no doubt that God’s hand is working at Gilbert Lutheran Church. Starting the Backpack Buddies program has raised the congregation’s awareness of how hunger and poverty is affecting their community, and how they are called by God to make a difference. “We really just jumped into this program with no idea how it was going to happen, except it had to. We have been blessed by the support of our congregation at Gilbert Lutheran and by the wider community,” concluded Peterson.