Children in need: 31 Backpacks finding ways to help young people

Photo used with permission of 31 backpacks There are many organizations and outlets where at-risk families can receive assistance with food insecurity and this is often one of the busiest times of the year for these groups.

The holidays are a time when are thankful for things that are usually taken for granted, like having enough food. Being grateful for one’s own good fortune should also serve as a reminder that this is one of the hardest times of year for in-need families. 

One reason for this is that children, who often get one to two meals per day at school, head home for the break. Just under 30 percent of families with children attending Houghton Portage Township Schools (HPTS) get these meals at a free or reduced price, according to Shelby Turnquist, the Director of Food Services at HPTS. 

“Every year the government puts out financial guidelines and the schools put out applications to families in the district,” said Turnquist. 

This means that families in need can experience additional financial burden over weekends and holiday breaks, especially if they have multiple school-age children. 

31 Backpacks is an area non-profit that provides an estimate 200 Copper Country families in need with food over the weekends and breaks, according to organization co-founder Laurel Maki. 

“We go through the schools because that’s where the kids are,” said Maki. “Teachers and social workers alert us of who’s in need… Employees of the schools learn by talking to the families.” 

31 Backpacks also maintains a food pantry in the Horizons School in Mohawk.  

“Some of those kids are homeless… They don’t need food just on weekends,” said Maki. “Without us, those kids were going hungry.”  

Readers can help 31 Backpacks by donating through their Facebook page. 

Going through the schools is not the only way that local at-risk families can access help with food. The Western U.P. Foodbank serves between 900 and 1000 families in Baraga, Houghton, and Keweenaw Counties. The Foodbank is supported by Community Action, Feed America, and USDA programs, as well as food and financial donations. 

The Foodbank is able to purchase food at steep discounts, which it then distributes or sells to other area distribution centers at a slight mark-up but still well below shelf-price. 

“Money stretches further than food donations because we can buy food so cheaply. We do get [food] donations but it’s harder to redistribute,” said Jean LaBerge of the Foodbank. “We can always use volunteers.” 

For information on donating, volunteering, or getting help, visit feedwm.org, call (906)482-5548, or visit the Foodbank at 310 East Sharon Ave. in Houghton. 

One distribution center that purchases from the Foodbank is the St. Vincent DePaul food pantry at 206 Quincy St. in Hancock, which serves roughly 120 people per month. 

“Our primary source of funding is through Resurrection Parish as well as some other churches,” said Tom Vichich of the food pantry. The pantry also receives food from area grocery stores and food drives. 

The food pantry uses the same financial guidelines as the federal government and distributes food based on household size. 

Cash donations can be brought to the Saint Vincent DePaul Thrift store at 204 Quincy St. Food donations can be brought into the pantry Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m. 


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