Haddam Now 11/9/2017-
The HK Backpack Program provides food to help our communities’ children in need. The Backpack Program is a nation-wide initiative created by school nurses in Arkansas who noticed some children were coming into their office every Monday with stomachaches, dizziness and headaches. They quickly realized that the children were not being fed over the weekend, when school lunch was not provided. The nurses devised a program to get these children the food they needed without the humiliation of looking like they have received a food handout. Every Friday these children in need are given a backpack full of food for the weekend, the children then return the backpack the following school day so that it may be refilled the following Friday.
They recently received not-for-profit status, so donations are tax deductible.
According to Amber Stamm, “Our current enrollment is up to 52 kids. That’s 52 boxes of cereal, 52 cartons of milk, 52 cans of vegetables, soup, etc. As generous as you all have been, we are in CONSTANT need. We are deeply grateful for all your donations!! Our most current needs are:
- shelf stable milk
- canned soup
- canned meat (no tuna please)
- canned fruit/applesauce
- canned vegetables (no corn please)
- juice boxes
- Maple Syrup
- Hamburger Helper
- Knorr Pasta Sides
- cake mix and a container of frosting (the child gets this when it’s their birthday)”
You can easily shop for the program on Amazon at THIS LINK, and the food will go directly to the program. Or you can drop off food at the donation bins at the Haddam and Killingworth Town Halls. Or you can donate online at their Facebook page.
Please consider helping some of our community’s children/
Amber Stamm: Spearheading HK Backpack Program so Kids Don’t Go Hungry
Growing up poor, Amber Stamm remembers what it was like to be hungry and how it felt to not know where her family’s next meal was coming from. When she met her husband, who had similar experiences growing up, they decided they would not have children until they were “100 percent financially stable” so their children never had to live through that experience.
“I had a single mom who was a waitress raising two kids on very little child support,” says Amber. “She struggled mightily and many days we ate things like sugar and butter sandwiches because that was all we had in the house. She struggled to keep food on the table, to keep the house, and keep the car.”
Amber and Bill established themselves and now have two daughters, a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old, but even before their daughters were born, they have worked to make sure children in the area had resources for getting enough food. The couple lived in Deep River and had heard about a backpack program that sent food home with at-risk students on weekends and holidays.
“Before I had children, this program was a huge thing for me and my husband,” says Amber. “We both grew up pretty poor and would’ve benefited from a program like this as a child. It makes me so angry that there are children starving in this country and I want to do whatever we can to help alleviate that.”
Four years ago, Amber and her family moved to Killingworth where she joined a moms’ group. After a year, she became president of the group and would attend early childhood meetings with area daycare owners and others. At one meeting, they were discussing how to raise money for books for children in need.
“I asked if there was a backpack program in town and everyone looked at me with blank stares and then [I] said, ‘Why are we worrying about books when children don’t have food to eat?’” says Amber. “That lit a fire under me and I went back to the moms’ group and said, ‘There are kids in the area who don’t have enough to eat, but if every one of us does a few dollars, we would be taking care of our own in our own community.’”So in 2015, the HK Backpack Program (HKBP) was founded and began collaborating with Killingworth Elementary School and Youth & Family Services. The next year, Amber contacted the district’s other elementary school, the middle school, and the high school looking to expand the program.
Haddam Elementary School already had a backpack program in place through the Higganum Congregational Church, but the HKBP services Killingworth Elementary School, Burr Elementary School, and Haddam Killingworth Middle School, as well as some referrals from Youth & Family Services at the high school. At the beginning of each school year, information on the HKBP goes home with every single student.
“We make sure that everyone knows about it and they don’t have to seek it out,” says Amber, who works part-time at a clothing store and has some per diem jobs as a chef. “We’re not waiting for the child to present symptoms of hunger—headaches or missing school.”
During the last school year, the HKBP served nearly 60 students in the HK community. Backpacks are filled with donated items and brought to school on Thursdays to allow time for the child to pick them up and bring them home. Backpacks contain enough food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for each day the children aren’t in school.
“We try to provide enough food for them to get them through the weekend when school lunches aren’t available,” says Amber, who also noted that personal hygiene items are also included when possible. “One of the dinners is a family meal because we like to encourage families to sit down together.”
Ever since founding the program, Amber has seen the outpouring of support from the community. There are donation bins at both the Haddam and Killingworth town halls and the HKBP shares a donation bin with the Helping Hands Food Pantry at the library. HKBP also has a wishlist on Amazon.“The support we’ve gotten from the community has been absolutely amazing,” says Amber. “It started as just the moms group and myself as the driving force, but as our publicity has grown and people are learning that there’s an actual need, they step up and do something, which is really wonderful. One of greatest things about living here is everyone wants to help.”
In addition to food collection through the donation bins, there are also several fundraisers throughout the year, such as the paint night held earlier this summer and a returnable collection. The biggest fundraiser of the year is a Family Fun Day at Parmalee Farm. This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 15 and will feature face-painting, food, bouncehouses, and more.
In the beginning of this summer, a local mother contacted Amber saying that her daughters wanted to hold a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to the HKBP.
“They raised almost $200—every little bit makes a huge difference,” says Amber. “It has been wonderful how the town has embraced this. People are so generous and giving and lovely.”
In the early days of the HKBP, Amber ran the program out of her family’s garage. When the demand for the program became overwhelming, she approached Helping Hands Food Pantry. It not only helped the program, but offered to share its space so the HKBP is now located within the food pantry, allowing more room to store items and room to pack the backpacks.
There are also six volunteers trained in packing and distributing the backpacks to the various schools in town. The volunteers come every week to make sure the bags are ready to go. There are also many other people who volunteer in different aspects, such as creating flyers, publicity, and much more. Amber’s husband is also still involved, too.“There are quite a few who are involved in one way or another, even if it’s just a piece of the puzzle,” says Amber, who enjoys cooking, gardening, and reading. “Bill is great and my No. 1 supporter and whatever the program needs, we do our best to make sure it gets it. He gets it and understands why it’s so important that we do this.”
To volunteer or donate, contact Amber Stamm through the Facebook page (HK Backpack Program Official) or at firstname.lastname@example.org