Erin, tell us a little bit more about Blessings in a Backpack and the great work the organisation does?
What we do is quite simple – we make sure leads leave school on Friday with food for the weekend in their backpacks. But what is unique about Blessings is that we’ve been able to scale the organisation while keeping the impact local. We are the only US organisation solely dedicated to preventing childhood hunger on the weekends, and we’re serving children in 46 states. We are able to do that by the hard work and dedication of our volunteers that help make the magic happen every week for children in their community. These volunteers help raise financial support, work with the schools, pack bags, and assist with distribution when appropriate.
Ladies, knowing the past 17 months have been so difficult for many families in the US, tell us about what Blessings in the Backpack has been up to during this time? How did you have to pivot?
During the week of 9 March 2020, as it became more and more apparent that there would be massive school closures across the country, the Blessings team quickly pivoted to try to get as much food to children before their schools closed. Then, last spring, we worked with our local volunteer teams to coordinate with their partner schools to distribute food to children, and our method varied by community, focused on aligning with the school’s weekday food distribution solution or other local initiatives. Luckily, we have a prepacked food solution that could be shipped directly to schools for when volunteers are not able to gather and pack. During the spring of 2020 spring school closures, we were able to distribute more than 640,000 bags of weekend nutrition to children.
This school year has been more challenging. Last spring, every school moved to e-learning. This year, the school schedule and what is able to take place on a school’s campus varies so much. In some ways, it makes our work as a national organisation more challenging. But we’ve seen so many creative solutions to get food to these children, it has been the inspiring stories that really bring communities together. We’re touched every day by the dedication of our volunteers and staff!
Brooke, can you tell us about your achievements over the eight years you headed Blessings in a Backpack for? What have been some of the most rewarding parts of the job? What will you miss the most?
Over the past eight years, my leadership has resulted in the following accomplishments for Blessings in a Backpack and the children we serve:
- Serving nearly 90,000 children every weekend, the highest annual number ever.
- Growth from a $4 million to a $12 million organisation, through sound fiscal
management and a comprehensive fundraising strategy with a diversified donor base.
- Development of a strong leadership and staff team.
- Growth of a national volunteer base from 2,700 to over 15,500 with robust
volunteer services and training system.
The most rewarding part has been the opportunity to work with our dedicated staff and volunteers from around the country in feeding children in need.
I will miss the friendships and the opportunity to serve the mission on a daily basis!
Erin, what are your plans for the future of Blessings in a Backpack? What are you looking most forward to in your new role? What is Blessings in a Backpack’s ultimate goal?
My plans for the future of Blessings in a Backpack and our ultimate goal is quite simple – let’s feed more kids facing weekend hunger! Due to the pandemic, it is estimated that there are now more than 18 million American children not always knowing when they will next eat. That’s not acceptable.
But, while the goal is simple, the challenge always lies in the details, right? To feed more kids, we are striving to provide better and more support for our volunteers, help our chapters grow quicker, recruit more volunteers, and increase our efficiencies to decrease costs. In my new role, I look forward to connecting deeper with our 16,000+ volunteers and staff to pull the full Blessings team together as we strive towards the common goal of feeding kids on the weekend. That is really where the magic happens with Blessings in a Backpack – in each community, caring people are making a difference in the lives of children by giving their time, talent, and other resources to Blessings in a Backpack. Helping them do more and do it easier to feed kids is what drives me every day.
Brooke, what’s your advice for the new CEO, Erin?
My best advice is to stay close to the purpose and the mission of the organisation. Put that first every day and look for the wonderful mission moments that happen around you.