EAST COUNTY — Stephanie Covey doesn’t exactly have a bedroom at home any more, but she doesn’t mind.
Since she’s been away at the University of Florida studying public relations, her room has been converted into storage space for packs of tuna, bags of lentils, books and any other non-perishable food items that a family in need may require.
“I moved out, and my room’s the stock room now,” she said with a chuckle.
Covey is the founder of Backpack Club Inc., a non-profit organization that is helping East County families one child — and one backpack — at a time.
Through donations and a team of volunteers, the organization provides children at Freedom Elementary School with a backpack filled with food, toiletries and other items. Qualifying children take the backpacks homes once each month, empty them and return them to be refilled.
Each child gets one backpack, so families with more than one child are getting more food.
Covey sets up donations and handles other logistics, while her mother, Sherri, brother, James, and his friends from Braden River High School pick up the donations each Saturday from the Publix at Lakewood Walk, sort through items and stuff them into backpacks for delivery.
“The volunteers at Braden River High School have been such a vital part of Backpack Club,” Covey said. “It wouldn’t happen without James and all his friends.”
Covey first learned about the idea for a Backback Club two years ago while taking a sociology class. An article she read suggested that sending backpacks full of food home with needy children may help reduce some forms of poverty.
“I liked the idea,” Covey said. “I called the guidance counselor at Freedom. I said if things ever got that bad, here was something I’d like to start. She said they needed it now.”
Covey got to work and started Backpack Club Inc., last August. Initially, the program provided backpacks to about five children. But by the end of the school year, the number had grown to about 75.
“I knew the economy was rough, and people were struggling, but I didn’t know there was such a great need,” Covey said. “We found that the federal breakfast and lunch program helps them a lot, but (these children) aren’t able to go home and get the nutrition they need to focus in school.”
Freedom Elementary Guidance Counselor Sherri Brunner said the program has resulted in a new level of trust between participating families and the school and that children involved in the program have vested more into their education through improved attendance and doing their homework more frequently.
“It has been a real spirit-booster for the students and their families and our staff, as well,” Brunner said of the club. “When you see things being done that really help and the kids enjoy it, and it’s all done through the donations and goodwill of others — that’s a beautiful thing.”
Covey said she hopes to help even more children at Freedom this year — there are 210 on free or reduced-price lunches — and eventually would like to expand the program to other East County schools.
“If there’s a child at that school that needs it, I want to provide them food,” she said.
Covey now is organizing a Backpack Club at a primary school near her college.
For more information about Backpack Club, visit www.backpackclubinc.org.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].