In Maplewood and South Orange, it's all about networking.
Girl Scout and Brownie troop leader Robin Leonard was looking for a way for her troops to help the community. Leonard is co-leader of Troop 20379 (4th grade Juniors) with Clare Payton and Troop 20049 (2nd grade Brownies) with Patty Kremen. Clinton PTA President Elizabeth Aaron had just heard David Wagner speak about the program to a group at and, through Liz Petroccia at St. Joe's, put Robin in touch with Wanger.
"We wanted to do a service project that culminated with something the girls could work on together at their Dec. 19 meetings."
Wagner told Leonard about the BackPack Pals program and how 15 kids at Clinton — or three families — needed food supplemented each weekend.
BackPack Pals, which founder Chris Dickson helped launch in September, aims to provide kid-friendly, shelf-stable food to in-need children in SOMA schools. Items will be distributed in pre-packaged bags and placed in the child's backpack at the end of the school week.
“These children are typically those who receive free in-school breakfast and lunches during the week, but may face the prospect of a weekend without food,” Dickson told Patch back in September. “BackPack Pals is an effort to bridge this gap.”
"Nothing makes me happier than when kids like the Girl Scouts get involved in helping the kids that will benefit from this program," Wagner wrote to Leonard. "They're helping kids that they may be sitting next to in their classes, although they’ll never know because we keep it very anonymous."
Wagner says the program is still in its infancy, and he is still learning how best to enlist the help of the greater community.
Wagner told Leonard that a food drive and a packing event would be an "enormous help."
"I currently store all my inventory at the St. Joseph’s food pantry where I get volunteers to come and help me pack the bags," said Wagner.
"By that weekend (Dec. 10 and 11), we had come up with a goal of having the girls collect enough food to help feed those families for the entire 10-day holiday break," said Leonard. Each of the 31 girls had a specific food item to collect and a goal amount.
Some girls distributed fliers in their neighborhood that first weekend and collected the food this past weekend (Dec. 17 and 18), other girls helped around the house and donated money from their piggy banks to purchase food. A number of the girls asked friends coming for holiday parties to contribute food.
"Every single girl in the two troops contributed to the food collection and we exceeded our goals for everything and in addition collected another 150-200 items that will go directly to the three families in need."
The packing event took place on Dec 19 after school at Clinton School.