Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Pawtucket 12-05-2018

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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2 PAWTUCKET DECEMBER 5-11, 2018 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION PAWTUCKET – Six years in, the Pawtucket Backpackers is holding strong to its mission of providing sup- plemental food to children and fami- lies in crisis, with a committed core of volunteers, each with their own tasks, showing no hint of slowing down. Kaydi McQuade, board vice president of a group that's now a 501(c)(3), previ- ously served on the Pawtucket School Committee before moving to Lincoln. She said she remains committed to making a difference through the effort. "It is honestly the easiest, most direct thing I can think of in the world, and I can't imagine not doing it as long as it's needed," she told The Valley Breeze. The idea that children are going hungry, and that she can help fill them up with a time commit- ment of two hours each week? "Sign me up," says McQuade. Backpackers volunteers have added two charter schools, International Charter and Blackstone Academy in Pawtucket, to their list of other Pawtucket public schools. Since 2014, the group has operated sepa- rately from the Pawtucket school food service, after Chartwells replaced Sodexo. Headquarters moved to Blackstone Academy at that time. The all-volunteer group's work has remained consistently excellent, said McQuade, with most who show up to pack bags every Wednesday doing so since the beginning. The donations and volunteers keep coming, she said, allowing the group to help 225 or more children each week. "The need stays pretty much the same," she said. The group would likely need an executive director with a substantial amount of time to pour into solicit- ing funds to grow it substantially, she said. Most who volunteer just happen to hear about the circumstances the group is trying to address and are so appalled that children are still going hungry that they start chipping in and never leave, she said. The Backpackers has gotten to a certain level, is working like clockwork, and the people who keep it running love what they do, she said. Amy Macedo is the president of the Pawtucket Backackers. School board member Joanne Bonollo, who found- ed the groups, says she remains a fan and supporter. The number of children needing food fluctuates by time of year, said McQuade, but typically stays around 225, about double the number when the group started. There's always a spike in January, as heating season is kicking into high gear and children are heading back to school after eat- ing all the food in the house over the holidays. "It's heat or eat time," says McQuade. The highest number of students ever served at any one time was around 300, she said. Volunteers have refined their operation to a point where all the food is packed up in about an hour. "Everyone knows what they're doing," she said. Everyone giggles and talks while they work, and then suddenly look up and there are 50 sacks, each with five bags apiece in them, ready to load and deliver, said McQuade. About three-quarters of Pawtucket's 9,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and the Pawtucket Backpackers helps some of the neediest of those, as decided by staff. There are many misconceptions Pawtucket Backpackers running like a well-oiled machine By ETHAN SHOREY Valley Breeze Managing Editor ethan@valleybreeze.com MCQUADE A faithful group of VOLUNTEERS, of all ages, continues to contribute hours each week filling bags with food for local students. 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