Steve and Alison Werner stand with all the snack packs that Covenant Helpers Arbor made for students at West Utica Elementary School Aug. 30.

Steve and Alison Werner stand with all the snack packs that Covenant Helpers Arbor made for students at West Utica Elementary School Aug. 30.

Photo provided by Covenant Helpers Arbor

Volunteer organization provides snack packs to local students

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 21, 2020


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — This year has been a drastic change for everyone after the outbreak of the coronavirus, and especially for the students who are now either going to school in person or virtually.

Some families are in a situation where having enough food might be difficult.

A local group of volunteers found a way to help out the families and students by putting together packages called snack packs to deliver to students at a Shelby Township school.

On Aug. 31, members of Covenant Helpers Arbor dropped off 400 grocery bags at West Utica Elementary School so that they could be handed out when students came to pick up laptops the next day.

Covenant Helpers Arbor is a volunteer organization from Covenant Financial Group that focuses on community service projects in Shelby Township and the surrounding area.

The group reached out to West Utica Elementary to see if there might be an opportunity to help kids at West Utica who are eligible for meal assistance. While speaking with the school staff, school staff member Kathy Corso suggested that, instead of traditional school supplies, the group could consider donating a snack for each child.

“Maybe a pack or two of Cheez-It crackers; nothing with chocolate or peanut butter,” she said to the group.

The snack pack project coordinator, Kelly Logan, who is also an executive assistant at Covenant Financial Group and grew up in Shelby Township, said that, in the preliminary planning stages, they found that many students at the school qualified for free or reduced breakfast and lunch, so learning virtually made it harder for students to get the meals they normally would from school. The group came up with a package that would be simple for the children.

“I came up with a list of ‘mini meals’ that would be easy for the kids to make themselves (canned ravioli, easy mac and cheese, oatmeal, etc.) and some healthier snacks that fell within the guidelines given,” said Logan.

After some discussion, the group made a goal to gather enough food for each student to get at least a Ziploc bag with a snack but found they were able to do much more.

Logan and Alison Werner, another Covenant member, used their frugal shopping and couponing skills to fill a grocery bag for each student.

“We’re both pretty hardcore when it comes to stretching our dollars,” Logan said.

They purchased hundreds of cans of soup, pasta, fruit bowls, crackers, popcorn, raisins and granola bars.

The group spent almost an entire day packing the bags for the children. The group also had three teenagers — Noah Werner, Lauren Garwood and Natalie Garwood — who gave up their Friday to help pack the bags.

“It was actually a lot of fun; tiring, but fun. The employees at the school helped us unload and were responsible for making sure that each and every student got a bag when they picked up their laptops for the year,” said Logan.

Werner said the most challenging part was shopping; however, some other shoppers made it even easier.

“Shopping was the challenge, trying to get the best deals so we could provide more food to the families. I would fill my shopping cart to the top. This piqued the interest of other shoppers. I told them what I was shopping for and got many positive comments. One woman was so moved by this project that she opened her purse and gave me $50 so we could buy a little more. She was a total stranger but didn’t like the idea that there are hungry kids out there,” said Werner.

On Aug. 31, the group filled their cars, trucks and vans and drove them to West Utica Elementary School, where some of the school staff helped them unload.

The bags filled multiple tables in the front hallways of the school.

The Covenant Helpers Arbor were pleased to find out later that the surprise worked out as they had hoped.

Corso said everyone was excited — parents, teachers, and kids — and the parents were very grateful.

Werner said she was happy to be able to help those who need a little extra support and that being able to give was an honor.

“I think when we take the time to help each other with whatever need people may have, the giver gets more back than what they gave. You go away with a feeling of satisfaction and usefulness. If more people tried giving of themselves and sharing with others, instead of living selfishly, the world would be a very different place. I try to follow the example of Jesus, who was the ultimate servant,” said Werner.

For more information about Covenant Helpers Arbor and future projects, call (586) 739-3550.