KETTERING, Ohio (WDTN) — For more than a decade, the Kettering Backpack Program has helped feed kids over the weekend during the school year, with 42% of students in Kettering experiencing some kind of food insecurity at home.

Inside Christ Church across from Kettering Fairmont High School, volunteers pack bags. Packing enough for two meals a day for the weekend, the Kettering Backpack Program serves 700 children every weekend.

“It costs $7.65 per bag each weekend. Pre-COVID, $4.25, but with inflation and the food prices really skyrocketing, we’re at $7.65 times 700 students, and then it’s 25 weeks. So it is over $100,000 to fund our program each year, ” says Dawn Wyatt, Community Director of the Kettering Backpack Program.

Funded by grants, the community, and Kettering teachers, the program relies on donations and volunteers. 

“We use hundreds and hundreds of hours of volunteers packing our bags each week. We have volunteers that stock. We have volunteers that deliver bags. We have volunteers that clean,” lists Wyatt. 

Linda Bouris is one of the volunteers, packing bags. For her, it tugs at her heartstrings. 

“I was hungry a lot, and I just can’t see a little kid going without food for any length of time,” tears up Bouris. “That’s why this makes me happy. I help a little bit.”

Their efforts are both equally gratifying and heartbreaking.

“It is very rewarding to do what we do to make sure the kids in our community are fed, but it also breaks your heart when you see that those kids are so excited to know that they’re going to have a bag of food over the weekend and maybe that they’re not going to be hungry,” says Wyatt. “We get those stories all of the time from the counselors. One story they told us was a little girl–they were told to bring in something about what they did over the summer. So they could bring whatever they want– photos from a vacation, a souvenir, and this little girl brought in a role of aluminum foil. And she said all summer long, her and her mom collected cans to get money for food. It was heart-wrenching to know that it was normal for her, and she was proud of what they did all summer, but those are the kids that there is that need right here in our community.”

They’ve seen first-hand the impact of the program.

“During COVID, we delivered the bags to the community. We got on a bus, went out in the community, and dropped their bags off when they weren’t in school to make sure they still had food. And what we saw was children who were opening their bags before they even left the bus stop,” describes Wyatt. “And things that maybe we take for granted like milk, and they get shelf-stable milk, which is still great, but it does have a different taste. We always wonder–Are they drinking it? Are they using it? And we had kids drinking it before they left their stop.”

Every volunteer and every donation to the program helps. 

“They always need help. They need volunteers. They need food,” says Bouris. 

If you would like to donate to Kettering’s Backpack Program or find out more information, click here.