The community group Helping Hands implemented Operation BackPack at Northwood School in the fall of 2016 and it is alive and well today. The Operation BackPack Program offers nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for students, Pre-K through 12th grade, on weekends and school vacations when school breakfast and lunch are not available. Each year, Helping Hands volunteers serve between 50-75 students and distribute over 2,160 weekend food bags with Operation BackPack. Food is ordered and delivered through Feed My People, a food bank out of Eau Claire, to COMFORTS in Minong. Community volunteers then pack the bags and deliver them to school for the weekly distribution.
Operation BackPack evolved from a simple way of getting weekend food to children with food insecurity to a much more complete help to those families in need. In addition to the weekly Operation BackPack Program, Helping Hands also implemented the Family BackPack Program in the summer of 2019. Families receive over one hundred pounds of food at the monthly distribution. The Family BackPack Program was so well received that it continued throughout the school year as well as the summer months and currently serves 35 families each month. The weekend BackPack Program feeds kids but the monthly BackPack Program feeds entire families.
Funds for Operation BackPack are raised with the support from local community partnerships (businesses, churches, and individuals). Neighbors helping neighbors throughout our rural Northwood community. The Helping Hands volunteers are grateful to be able to ease some of the burden parents and children feel as they face these uncertain times.
Bill and Elaine Bailey, founders of Helping Hands, were recently awarded a $3,000 grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation to use specifically for the Operation BackPack Program. The recipient groups typically receive the grants at a luncheon in the Lambeau Field Atrium in December, but due to the pandemic, this year's grants were issued earlier to assist those organizations impacted by the pandemic. This year's grant cycle focused on organizations that will direct the funds toward the need areas of elderly, homelessness, human services and hunger. The grants awarded by the Foundation must be used for the specific program or initiative for which the organizations applied. These grants are not recurring, and the 2020 recipient organizations will not be eligible to apply for grants again until 2023.
In celebration of this grant award from the Green Bay Packers Foundation, Northwood School Football Coach, Matt Hager, presented Helping Hands with the $3,000 check. A small group of students decked out in Packer gear also joined in the celebration. The Northwood community is grateful for the Helping Hands vision, kindness, and volunteer time to support our students and families to eliminate food insecurities in our neighborhoods.