Annual Project Backpack event in St. Ignace helps at-risk children thrive

volunteers at table

What do backpacks, haircuts and a Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Food Pantry have in common? Together, they helped parents in Mackinac County get their kids back-to-school ready at the 15th annual Project Backpack event held in St. Ignace last month.

The event was organized by the Mackinac County Child Protection Roundtable, which is a children’s trust fund council that does all it can to raise awareness about and prevent child abuse and neglect. The council realizes that, although children may face challenges as a result of their parents’ tough situations, this doesn’t mean these parents are intentionally neglectful.

For example, a low-income family may be forced to allocate money toward rent and other basic necessities – instead of toward healthy food or school supplies for their children. That’s why the council started Project Backpack – to prevent caring parents from having to make such tough choices by bringing a range of resources and services to a central location.

“When kids have their basic needs met for the first day of school, it sets the tone for the rest of the year,” said Ronda, a council member and the event coordinator.

Along with the free backpacks and fresh haircuts provided at the event, families also had access to fresh and shelf-stable foods through a Mobile Food Pantry, sponsored in part by the James and Kimberly Currie Foundation.

“With the [Mobile Food Pantries], we have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables that families can’t afford,” Ronda said. “Otherwise, they might buy food that might not be as good for kids.”

“It might not be neglectful on purpose,” she said, “but it doesn’t fall into their means to afford it.”

volunteers behind table
Each year, many community stakeholders contribute their time and effort to serve their neighbors. This year’s event was no different. 195 families received food and 30 organizations came out to offer free resources like vision-screenings, haircuts, school supplies and more. Church groups, retired neighbors and even the council’s board members volunteered their time.

The event is particularly necessary in the Upper Peninsula, where families face increased challenges – like the area’s cold winters.

“It’s a seasonal work employment environment,” Ronda explained. “People work hard all summer, and are then laid off and unemployed during the winter.”

Mackinac County’s food insecurity rates reflect these challenges: 1 in 6 people are at risk of going hungry. Children are even more at risk: 1 in 5 are food insecure.

volunteers at table
Community events like Project Backpack help families make ends meet when their income just doesn’t stretch far enough.

Feeding America West Michigan is grateful it can collaborate with other impactful organizations at events like Project Backpack who share a passion for helping neighbors in need. The collaborative efforts of organizations like the Mackinac County Child Protection Roundtable and the James and Kimberley Currie Foundation enable the food bank as it works to end childhood hunger in its service area.

Story written by Juliana Ludema, Communication Assistant