That’s the message behind RamPacks, a faith-based nonprofit organization in the Pennridge area whose mission is to make sure kids suffering from food insecurity have something nutritious to eat over weekends and holidays.
Launched in the fall, the program currently serves about 65 students in two Pennridge School District elementary schools and is expected to expand districtwide.
Every Friday, the youngsters receive a backpack filled with two healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Items typically include pop-top canned meats, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, cereal, fruit and granola bars. Over long weekends or extended holidays, extra items are included. It costs about $8 to fill each bag.
RamPacks founder Donna Huff, a retired public school principal who lives in West Rockhill, was shocked to learn that one in four children who attend Pennridge schools qualifies for the federal government’s free and reduced meal programs. While school cafeterias provide them with healthful breakfasts and lunches during the week, chances are pretty good those same students will show up Monday morning having had little or nothing nutritious to eat over the weekend.
“Kids can’t learn under those conditions,” said Huff. “They’re too distracted ... it’s heartbreaking. I knew something had to be done about it.”
Last spring, Huff shared those grim statistics with her fellow congregants after a Sunday service at St. Paul’s UCC Church in Sellersville, hoping to generate some interest in developing a way to support students at Sellersville
Elementary School. In a bit of serendipity, the church had recently made a conscious decision to be more involved in the community, so the message was well-received.
“I had 15 people come up to me right away,” she recalled. “They said it was unbelievable that so many kids are in need. Everyone agreed we needed to do something.”
That positive response led Huff to attend a monthly meeting of the Pennridge Ministerium, which led to a bigger meeting where 30 people representing eight other churches – Jerusalem Lutheran, St. Peter’s Covenant, Blooming Glen Mennonite, Perkasie Mennonite, St. Michael’s Lutheran, Trinity Lutheran, Deep Run Mennonite, and St. Andrew’s UCC – in the Pennridge area showed up wanting to help. After intense discussion, the group decided to get behind RamPacks, modeled after a similar program combating food insecurity in the Souderton School District.
With the approval of Pennridge Superintendent Dr. David Bolton, Huff met with Sellersville Elementary School Principal Sarah Baker and counselor Diana Coleman to get an idea of how many students might participate in the program. While eligibility for free and reduced meals is used as a guideline, it is ultimately up to school officials to recommend families they feel would benefit the most, said Huff, whose grandchildren attended the school.
As word spread, churches, businesses, and individuals started making contributions. By August, RamPacks had the $14,000 Huff figured would be necessary to fund the effort for a full year. Contributions, some as big as $5,000, others as small as $10, came pouring in.
And it wasn’t just cash that fueled the program. Supporters have stepped up to provide legal services required to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, graphic design, printing, and website hosting for free or at drastically reduced prices. Volunteers shop monthly for food, which is housed at either St. Paul’s or Blooming Glen Mennonite Church before packing.
At Sellersville Elementary, where RamPacks was unveiled in October, Principal Sarah Baker called the weekly food donations “a blessing” and said they have “made a huge difference for our students.”
And at Guth Elementary, where the backpacks were distributed for the first time this month, Principal Matt Smith, called RamPacks “an amazing example of the kindness and service that make the Pennridge community and the Guth community really special.
“We are thrilled that we will be able to send home food for some of our children who may need help with meals over weekends and holidays,” he added. “I think it is just such an amazing thing to witness a community support each other in this way. I know it means a great deal to our families – both those who are supported and those who are eager to help.”
Huff said she thinks RamPacks tapped into the community’s desire to make something positive happen.
“There is so much negativity in the world these days,” she said. “This is something people can come together for and make a difference.”