Ferndale teachers, residents want to start Blessings in a Backpack program

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published December 7, 2015

 Event organizers Jennifer Seiler, left, and Lindsay Gonska, right, pose with Dino’s Lounge owner Dean Bach. The event saw people enjoy kid-themed foods and activities, such as coloring.

Event organizers Jennifer Seiler, left, and Lindsay Gonska, right, pose with Dino’s Lounge owner Dean Bach. The event saw people enjoy kid-themed foods and activities, such as coloring.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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FERNDALE — About 61 percent of the student body in the Ferndale School District qualifies for free or reduced lunch during the school year. At the elementary level, more than 51 percent of students, or 553 kids, qualify.

If families struggle to pay for a student’s lunch during the week, what is the situation like on the weekends? That is a question that Kennedy Elementary School second-grade teacher Lindsay Gonska asked, and one she hopes to help answer.

For $100, a student can go home every weekend during the school year with food for every meal on Saturdays and Sundays as part of the Blessings in a Backpack program. Gonska recently has headed up a Ferndale chapter of the program with the hope of starting to provide meals at the elementary level as soon as possible, and then expanding to other age levels in the near future.

“Children who are not getting fed are not worrying about learning or being successful people, but worrying about where their next meal comes from,” Gonska said. “If children are well-fed, statistics show they are more successful in school. It takes a village, and we are one here in Ferndale, as this not only helps the children, but is one less worry on the shoulders of the parents.”

On Dec. 3, Gonska and those helping her start the program held their first fundraising event at Dino’s Lounge. The Be a Kid for a Kid event saw attendees enjoying kid-themed foods and activities while raising money for those in need.

“We have kid cocktails, such as Not Your Father’s Root Beer, and kid-themed foods from chicken nuggets (to) mac and cheese,” Gonska said before the event. “And then the tables are covered in Legos and Lincoln Logs along with coloring books for adults to play with, and we have a clown doing magic.”

The entry fee of $35, or $45 at the door, along with 12 donated gift baskets that were raffled, raised nearly $3,300 for the program.

Ferndale resident Jennifer Seiler, who helped organize the fundraiser, said the event came together as people learned who benefited from the proceeds.

“We sat down and started brainstorming, because this is a program there is a need for — even in Oakland County — as kids go hungry,” she said. “We wanted to have some fun, and people could also bring in toys to be donated to a kid.”

In looking at how to continue raising funds for the program, Seiler said she has spoken with those involved in the Royal Oak Blessings in a Backpack program and will be partnering with them for their red-carpet-themed event in the new year.

With nearly 1,700 kids currently receiving free or reduced lunch in Ferndale, Seiler said she was happy to step up and help get the program started.

“I have some people very near and dear to me who grew up in poverty and struggled with food, so I believe in this program very much so,” she said. “I think for students to be able to learn, they need to be fed. I am a member of the community, so I wanted to do what I can to support everybody that is here, and there is a need for this.”

Blessings in a Backpack was formed in 2005 in Kentucky by another educator. Since then, the program has expanded to 46 states with more than 600 schools participating in helping to feed students.

Gonska said she found out about the program while substitute teaching in Royal Oak, and she saw a need for it in Ferndale when she started teaching at Kennedy. To help feed all the students who need help in the district, they would need to raise more than $170,000, but the goal is to start at Kennedy and then branch out.

“If there are three children in a family who all qualify for free or reduced lunch, all three can go home with backpacks of food,” Gonska said. “We want to give kids food on the weekend, when they may not have food at home. As soon as we raise the amount of money we need, we will start helping.”

To learn more about Blessings in a Backpack, or to donate to the Ferndale efforts, visit www.blessingsinabackpackmi.org/ferndale.

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