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Backpack Stuffing a Labor of Love Toward Needy Children for AASA Conference Volunteers

Conference attendees stuff tote bags at the Blessings in a Backpack event, sponsored by Sourcewell.

In what is becoming a tradition at the AASA national conference, several dozen superintendents lined up Friday to stuff bags with food for needy schoolchildren.

Among those participating in the project for about an hour in Nashville’s Music City Center were a pair of superintendents who have been married to each other for 38 years — Krestin and Bryon Bahr. They found great meaning in the volunteer activity.

“People think superintendents sit in an office, but this is what we do,” said Bryon, superintendent of Rainier School District 307 in Rainier, Wash. “We’re hands-on. If it snows, we’re out shoveling sidewalks. That’s just who we are.”

Added Krestin, superintendent of Peninsula School District 401 in Gig Harbor, Wash.: “Whatever it takes for kids. … We’re servant leaders. That’s our role.”

Sourcewell sponsored the annual Blessings in a Backpack event.

For the third time, the Blessings in a Backpack event was sponsored by Sourcewell, a cooperative purchasing organization and longtime corporate supporter of AASA.

“We’re pleased to partner with Blessings in a Backpack to have these bags go to a local Nashville school to make a difference for kids over the weekend,” said Chad Coauette, CEO of Sourcewell.

He estimated a “couple of thousand” bags would be filled and delivered, including a number that Coauette stuffed himself. Each bag contained seven items — cans of beef ravioli and macaroni and cheese, a fruit cup, two boxes of breakfast cereal, Cheez-its and a note with a positive message.

Household food insecurity affected 14.8 percent of households with children in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Tennessee, more than 19 percent of children live in food-insecure homes, according to Share of Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Beth Webb, superintendent of the Richard City Special School District in South Pittsburg, Tenn., said she put bag stuffing on her AASA conference schedule when she heard an announcement at Thursday’s 1st General Session.

“I do this at our school,” she said. “We pack snacks for our kids quite often for the weekend.”

Another superintendent who showed up in the exhibit hall for the project on Friday morning was Merv Daugherty of Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia. “I don’t think the general population has true understanding of the great needs out there,” he said.

In his 6,300-student district, 38 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals. “A lot of our families are struggling to make sure kids have three meals per day.”

Several AASA staffers participated, including Executive Director Daniel Domenech.

“It’s important to do something for the children in the city in which we hold the conference,” Domenech said. He expressed appreciation for Sourcewell’s support and the partnership with Blessings in a Backpack. That Louisville, Ky.-based non-profit reported that it is serving 88,900 children in 46 states and Washington, D.C., this weekend, thanks to 17,305 volunteers in more than 1,000 locations.

(Eric Randall is a senior editor with Conference Daily Online and editor-in-chief for the New York State School Boards Association in Latham, N.Y.)

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