An estimated 1,000 black canvass backpacks with packs of Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops, cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle and vegetable soup and Cheez-It cheddar crackers are headed to needy students across Los Angeles.
Superintendents and other educators and business representatives attending the AASA national conference gathered Friday morning in the convention center’s first-floor exhibit hall to stuff the backpacks and then pile them into boxes — all in the span of an hour. A team of freight workers then lifted them onto wheeled pallets and carted them off to the Los Angeles Unified School District schools.
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Tom Turrell, superintendent of Byers School District in Colorado, was among the educators who made multiple loops to stuff bag after bag as part of this year’s Blessings in a Backpack drive.
“The kids are used to getting meals at school, but it’s a three-day weekend here so it will give them at least a couple of meals,” said Turrell, as he tossed in another pack of Raisin Bran into the bag he was toting.
As the second-largest district in the country, LAUSD has many students who could benefit from these backpacks. About 80 percent of the district’s 694,000 students are from low-income families.
While superintendents at the AASA meeting hail from various parts of the country, many can relate to the fact some students need help meeting their basic needs. For some kids, eating is easier said than done, and they depend on school meals to get through the day. But when there is no school, they need a backup plan.
“We’re pretty small and rural at our district, but you still see that need there,” said Jeff Clark, superintendent of Hitchcock-Tulare School District in South Dakota, as he packed yet another backpack. He was still going strong when all bags were full. “We try to help them when they need it,” he said.
As soon as he realized all bags had been fully stuffed, Turrell scrambled to place the leftover food items in some bags.
Jennifer Rooney, AASA’s director of meetings and awards, said this is the second year that AASA has run a Blessings in a Backpack drive.
Blessings in a Backpack, based in Louisville, Ky., helps feed an estimated 87,000 children a year through its backpack drives and other charitable efforts. AASA teamed up with Sourcewell to support this year’s drive in Los Angeles.
Steve Bliss, a retired chief information officer from New Berlin, N.Y., was standing in, doing his part to fill the bags.
“This is just what we do. We’re teachers,” said Bliss.
(Emily Gersema is an associate director of communications at USC and a reporter for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)