OSWEGO — The Oswego chapter of Blessings in a Backpack is heading into its 10th school year of providing food to hungry children over the weekend.
Blessings in a Backpack serves students who receive free or reduced meals during the school week, and fed about 380 students in the Oswego City School District this past school year. Students are sent home with at least six food items every weekend, with the Oswego chapter typically providing eight items.
The Oswego chapter began due to a group of people’s desire to help the community, according to Oswego Blessings in a Backpack Program Coordinator Melissa Russell.
“In 2012 we had a meeting at the Church of the Resurrection and we wanted to figure out a way to serve our community,” Russell said. “We wanted a mission. We ended up talking about this program that we found in People Magazine, Blessings in a Backpack. So after that my mind just started going and going and I had researched different programs. We ended up doing Blessings in a Backpack, and 2013 is when we started, so this will be our 10th year. From then we started with 50 students and now we’re up to 400.”
The Oswego and Fulton chapters of Blessings in a Backpack were originally combined, until they separated a few years later due to increased need in the communities. Russell said that both chapters have grown and continue to grow since the separation.
The Oswego chapter also recently moved to a new location at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Oswego, located at 240 W. 1st St. The organization needed more space to support its growth, according to Russell. Russell said that their previous location was used for other things besides Blessings in a Backpack, which meant that they had to set up all of their tables and other equipment every week.
“Where we were at Church of the Resurrection, we had to tear down every week and we just kind of got too big for our space there,” Russell said. “So I put it out on Facebook for a new space, and there was quite a response. Then this became available and we’ll have all this space where we’ll be able to leave our tables up and we won’t have to worry about tearing down every week.”
Not only is the new space larger, but it also has side doors that will easily allow for pallets of food to be delivered without the added obstacle of stairs.
“It’s just a nice space and it’s so big,” Russell said. “We’ll be able to accept deliveries through these doors, because we have pallets of food. So that was our big thing, because we had a lot of places that were downstairs or they had stairs, and we can’t do stairs. … I’m hoping it’ll work phenomenally well.”
The Oswego chapter of Blessings in a Backpack gets its food from Save A Lot in Fulton. The organization does not receive any discount from the store, but Save A Lot does pack all of the food onto pallets for them. Blessings in a Backpack is dependent on donations, and members make their own financial contributions in order to purchase the food that is needed every week.
“If our number is at 400 this year, then our total cost will be $32,000,” Russell said. “It’s $80 per student for the 38 weeks. … I personally would like to maybe go up to $100, but we’ll have to see where our finances are.”
Russell said that Oswego Blessings in a Backpack is always looking for new people to help, and that some of the best ways to help are to donate and assist in packing the food for students. Packing happens every Monday during the school year except during school breaks. Members of Blessings in a Backpack and volunteers meet at 3 p.m. to pack, which typically takes less than one hour, according to Russell. The first packing for the upcoming school year is anticipated to be on Sept. 12.
“We would love anyone that’s able to come and pack on Mondays, we’ll be here … every Monday as long as there is school,” Russell said. “Anyone who wants to help, anyone who wants to get on the board, we’re always looking for people that have new ideas. We would love to see new ideas and new people who are willing to help out.”
Russell feels that members of the community are encouraged to continue helping Blessings in a Backpack because it benefits local children, potentially right in their own neighborhood.
“Our program is just for the Oswego City School District, so I think that’s where it hits home for a lot of people when they donate or when they help pack a bag,” Russell said. “This might be a child who’s right down your street, or someone you pass at Walmart or Price Chopper or wherever. These are our community’s students, we’re not feeding somebody in another state or city. They’re right here, so I think that’s stuck with people that makes them want to keep helping.”
Along with the new location, Oswego Blessings in a Backpack will be bringing back its trivia night fundraiser this November. This is the first time the event will be held since 2019, and Russell said that the event tends to get bigger and bigger every year. Attendees will have the opportunity to play trivia with friends and enjoy food, the cost of entrance benefiting Blessings in a Backpack. The fundraiser is currently scheduled for Nov. 4 at the Oswego Elks Lodge, with more details to follow.
Russell said that the Oswego community has been a big help when the organization has been in need.
“With this community, if you reach out and you ask for donations, our community is incredible with how they support our children,” Russell said. “We asked for peanut butter and we got droves of it. We ask for cereal and we just get boxes and boxes and it’s just really incredible.”
For more information about Oswego Blessings in a Backpack, visit its Facebook page at Blessings in a Backpack Oswego Chapter.