It’s a bustle of activity in the basement of Chimes in Mount Washington.
Volunteers unload cars full of food, sort the canned goods and get the bags ready to fill. By the end of the morning, they had stuffed 250 bags with a weekend’s worth of food.
And watching over everyone is the founder of Weekend Backpacks, Sandie Nagel.
“The organization of it is I have a lot of specialists!” she said with a smile. “I have an apple specialist, I have a milk specialist, I have a counter. I have great volunteers and they’ve all taken possession of its themselves.”
Nagel started Weekend Backpacks two and a half years ago. Every week during the school year, Nagel and an army of volunteers fill bags with food. The food is dropped off to schools around the city and given to children who have been identified as homeless.
“Our backpacks can feed 1,000 kids a weekend, except there are 3,200 homeless hungry kids in the city,” she said. “So that means 2,000 kids are going hungry.”
Nagel says the Weekend Backpacks are meant to fill the gap when the children aren’t being fed during school hours.
“Monday through Friday, they have sufficient food. Come Friday afternoon, there is no food until Monday morning or some cases Tuesday,” she said.
Each bag can feed a family of four. They contain milk, cereal, pasta, canned goods and fruit. Nagel doesn’t allow any sweets. She says a nutritionist works with them to create balanced, healthy bags.
Among the volunteers are employees with Chimes, which provides a number of services to people with disabilities.
One of those volunteers is Aubrey Harris, who has worked with Nagel for a year.
“It’s great, I like to be helpful,” Harris said. “I feel that they [children] need something, they need food to eat.”
Nagel plans to step aside to let two of her colleagues take over the operations of Weekend Backpacks. But she will still be involved, helping to make a difference in the lives of so many kids who would otherwise go hungry.
She recalls not long ago treating four seventh graders to lunch. The girls’ social worker told Nagel the girls had been on the Weekend Backpack program for two years.
“She said they don’t remember being hungry. That makes me proud. That’s a memory we’ve erased.”
Nagel said she hopes, with more funding, they can increase the number of bags they fill to 300 by mid-October and 400 by the first of the new year.
During the month of September, ShopRite is selling $10 bags of food customers can buy. Every bag of food will be donated to Weekend Backpacks.