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A New Conference Tradition: Stuffing 1,000 Backpacks to Fill Hungry Bellies Among the City’s Youth

Deb Kerr and Kristi Sandvik participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program

AASA conference volunteers threw in tortellini, cereal and snack foods at a rapid rate into tote bags that were destined for needy kids across San Diego as part of the AASA’s “Blessings in a Backpack” stuffing event. It took place Friday morning at the association’s National Conference on Education in San Diego.

See a short video of conference volunteers in action.

Sourcewell served as the underwriter of Blessings in a Backpack for the second year.

Volunteers worked rapidly to finish filling bags in less than an hour inside the AASA exhibit hall.

“I’ve filled 25 bags at least,” said Liz Wambeke, manager of business and membership development at Sourcewell.

Wambeke said she started the backpack-stuffing drive after one of her team members mentioned seeing Blessings in a Backpack in another city. “I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” she said.

Wambeke reached out to AASA and the Blessings in a Backpack organization, a non-profit based in Louisville, Ky., and now the drive is becoming an annual event. Last year, volunteers at the AASA stuffed 1,000 backpacks with food for children in the Los Angeles area. This year, they are sending just as many kids in the San Diego Unified School District.

About 20 percent of the 125,000 students in San Diego Unified come from families with household incomes below the poverty line.

“Hunger is not specific to just one district,” said volunteer Janica Johnson, who works with the Bank Street Graduate School in New York City, as she took a break from conference sessions in San Diego.

Johnson was just behind another eager volunteer, Ralph Grimm, a retired superintendent now working with the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Grimm quickly threw in cans of food, bags of crackers and other goodies to stuff backpacks at a rapid pace. Just 20 minutes into the effort, he had filled about 50 bags.

“I’m here for this now because of the same thing that motivated me to be an educator. I’m helping kids,” Grimm said. “No child should ever go hungry.”

(Emily Gersema is the assistant director of media relations at the University of Southern California.)

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