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Backpacks for Hunger sends food home with low-income students

Tawnya Panizzi
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Bonnie DeMotte packs food for needy children in the Fox Chapel Area School District to take home with them for the weekend. Friday, Feb. 9, 2017.

O’Hara resident Bonnie DeMotte spends a lot of time at the grocery store.

She has to — considering she feeds more than 160 children each week.

The Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church parishioner is vice president of the Backpacks for Hunger program, which provides needy students each week with soup, snacks and sandwiches to stave off hunger for the weekend after they leave school.

DeMotte said people might be surprised to learn that Fox Chapel Area School District has more than 800 students from low-income families who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school.

“That correlates to high food insecurity on the weekends,” DeMotte said.

Backpacks for Hunger sends participating children home from school with a bag of food every Friday. Sacks include two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks, allowing children to eat and be free from worry for the weekend, President Lisa Bowden said.

The church supports the nonprofit by providing donations, storage and a location where volunteers gather to sort and pack the bags.

Initiated by Kerr Elementary Guidance Counselor Sue Douglas, the church Bible study group decided that need wasn’t solely limited to Kittanning Pike school, where the program started.

“We decided to take it district-wide,” DeMotte said.

Currently, the group provides food to about 164 students each week. That includes kids from all six district schools, grades kindergarten through 12.

The program is anonymous, discreet and offered to anyone who requests it. During the summer, weekend food bags are distributed to children who attend a free lunch program in Sharpsburg.

Backpacks for Hunger will benefit from a fundraising concert this weekend at the Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, headlined by Pittsburgh-area band Good Brother Earl. The band blends rock, blues, country and pop, and has a steady following in Pittsburgh.

The church’s H2O Worship Band will also provide music at the family-friendly show, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Fellowship Hall at Fox Chapel and Field Club roads. The price of admission is $5 and a can of soup or jar of peanut butter.

“The program is completely dependent on donations from the public and volunteers,” Bowden said. “This concert will help us to be able to buy food for our program and will help spread awareness about the issue of childhood hunger in our own community.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at [email protected].

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