Grateful members of the PTA accepted a donation of $1,300 for the school’s innovative Backpack for Hunger program from a Kirkland-based giving circle Monday evening during an at-times emotional meeting at the school.
And it all started with a story on Kirkland Patch last spring about the program, which sends children from families in need home each weekend with a backpack full of nutritious food.
“This just makes me so excited and giddy,” said Birdie Folsom, co-president of the Keller PTA, pausing briefly to compose herself. “It’s fantastic. I just want to say thank you.”
The check was presented to the Keller PTSA by Rose Klein of Seattle and Chris Maloney of Redmond, members of the Kirkland-based charitable and social group called the “Giving Chicks.” About 60 members meet monthly and each brings $20 to donate. Two members at each meeting present proposals about worthy groups, and one is selected to receive the donated funds.
After reading the Kirkland Patch story, Maloney felt the Backpack for Hunger program was providing an essential service to local children and families that really need help.
“This month Chris presented the Helen Keller Backpack for Hunger program, and we chose it,” Klein explained. She added that the group was also donating $300 to a similar program at that provides “Basic Needs Packs” to homeless students, the subject of another Patch story.
"I wanted it to be something local," Maloney said.
Keller Principal Tim Stonich applauded not only the Giving Chicks, but also the PTA, parents, staff and volunteers who operate the program, which depends on donations.
“The kids have become so grateful,” he said, mentioning that at first it was feared they would feel a stigma and be reluctant. “They run to the backpacks, they can’t wait. These are wonderful families who are so grateful.”
On hand were volunteers who help prepare the backpacks, Keller’s energetic counselor Concha Lapuente who organizes it, and the neighborhood volunteer who came up with the idea, Cris Pederson.
"This is so full-circle," said Lapuente. "Our pantry is so small, but this is so fabulous."
Keller is in north Juanita, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods of Kirkland, with one of the highest rates of homeless students in the Lake Washington School District.
The program has become a model for other schools in the district. “It’s become the culture here,” said Pederson. “You need people in the trenches, teachers and staff like Concha. It is student helping student, neighbors helping neighbors.”
Pederson presented her idea for the program three years ago after becoming aware of the need in the neighborhood. Many of the students who need the help get free school breakfast and lunch during the week. But there was concern that they were going without on weekends.
“(Hunger) is one thing in my neighborhood that is not OK,” she said Monday. “It’s just not OK. Our initial goal was 10 families, but we started with 15. Our program also feeds that student’s siblings, the family. Right now there are 22 students, so we’re feeding 40-plus people
“Every single person in this room can put their head on their pillow knowing they’ve fed hungry neighbors.”
If you can help out the Backpack for Hunger program, please call counselor Concha Lapuente at 425-936-2580.