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Q&A: Blessings in a Backpack fuels student health and success

Lindsay Gonska at Ferndale Elementary School.

Lindsay Gonska has been an elementary school teacher at Ferndale Public Schools for the last five years. She found a way to feed her students even after they leave school.

To prepare for her career as an educator, Gonska received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a Master of Education from Oakland University.  
As a dedicated teacher, she helps to ensure students have what they need to succeed through a program called Blessings in a Backpack. By distributing backpacks full of nonperishable food items, students who may not have enough food to eat at home throughout the weekend won’t go hungry.  
Why did you start the program Blessings in a Backpack? 
I started Blessings in a Backpack (BIAB) because I saw it in action when I was a guest teacher in Royal Oak. When I was hired into Ferndale Schools, I realized they didn't have the program yet. I knew that if children are hungry, they aren't focusing on their learning -- they are wondering where their next meal will come from. That shouldn't be what a child thinks about. I wanted to answer that question for them. 
How many students in your school would typically go home without essential food items if it weren’t for resources like this? 
To feed a child every weekend for a school year, it costs about $100 a child. With 1,700 children in our district that qualify for assistance, the total cost would be $170,000. We get our numbers from children who are on free or reduced lunch. Not every family in that group needs BIAB, and not every family in that group signs the permission slip.
Right now, we have 141 children signed up at the elementary level and are looking to implement the program at another school this year. 
How can Blessings in a Backpack improve student learning? 
Food is so important -- it fuels the body and mind. Access to a program like this helps ease a child's worry about food. If children aren't eating, they aren't learning. We can impact the community overall by helping our children eat, grow, be happy and learn so they can become successful citizens. 
How is the program funded? 
The program works mostly on monetary donations. We then use the funds to purchase food at cost from Meijer. We work on monetary donations so the portions and food is consistent with each backpack. We also have food drives, but we ask for specific items as we follow a monthly menu based on nutrition and balance. Donations come from fundraisers and through our website all year long.

To contribute or learn more about Blessings in a Backpack, visit blessingsinabackpackmi.org.
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