BALTIMORE — Fans of the Buffalo Bills did a pretty big thing the week after their team beat the Ravens in the playoffs on January 16.
The Bills Mafia, as the team's fan base is called, raised $480,000 for one of Lamar Jackson's favorite charities, Blessings in a Backpack. The charity, based in Kentucky, packs bags of food for kids in need so they have something to eat on the weekends.
And there is an organization in Baltimore that also works to ensure hundreds of kids and their families aren't missing a meal on the weekends.
Weekend Backpacks started six years ago when now Executive Director Sandie Nagel packed 18 bags full of food to donate to kids in need.
Now thanks to an army of volunteers and a much bigger space in Pikesville, Weekend Backpacks is filling more than 1,000 bags a week, according to Alan Taylor, the charity's Vice President of Operations.
"Our idea is that children who are hungry cannot learn. They don’t want to go to school, they don’t want to do homework, their attendance is bad and there are discipline problems at school," he said.
Taylor said each bags weighs 10 to 14 pounds and is filled with canned and boxed food along with fresh fruit and two loaves of bread. One bag can provide six meals each to a family of three. The bags are dropped off at 33 schools in Baltimore City.
"Attendance has been much better with these families, grades have gone up. We have empirical studies by the principals, the social workers at the schools, the teachers and the comments we hear are absolutely amazing," Taylor said. "It makes us want to keep growing and growing."
And their operations are growing. Taylor said before the pandemic, they would pack over 600 bags of food a week. When the pandemic hit, they almost doubled their weekly output and also continued into the summer season to meet the demand. He said teachers were stepping in to help deliver the food.
"Many of them were taking the bags when we delivered and going door by door to deliver them to the families they knew were in need."
Taylor said none of this could be possible without the dedication of their volunteers. Longtime volunteer Amy Nusbaum said it fills her heart when she comes to pack bags.
"I will say it’s amazing how many people we help. I will say it’s sad how many people we help because these many people need our help," she said. "I just feel great when I leave. I feel like I really have helped other people."
Nusbaum, Taylor and the entire group at Weekend Backpacks hopes Lamar Jackson will show them some love like he has to Blessings in a Backpack.
"I think we need to invite Lamar to come on down and bag with us and see what goes on!" said Nusbaum.
"We are unbelievable Ravens fans," said Taylor. "We’d love to have the Ravens here. We’d love the Orioles here too."
If you want to help with Weekend Backpacks, you can volunteers to help pack bags or drive them to their destination. You can also make a monetary donation so they can continue to purchase food. Click here for more information on how you can help.