Royal Oak: How Blessings in A Backpack-Royal Oak Handled the Pandemic
The volunteers for Blessings in a Backpack-Royal Oak went beyond the norm to make sure the children of their community continued to receive their weekend food.
Our Blessings in a Backpack program got an unexpected telephone call on Friday, March 13, 2020, that the schools had been closed and the Blessing bins that we’d packed two days before, needed to be picked up. Blessings bags normally would have been delivered to a student’s locker by a school secretary, but the schools had suddenly closed, and we were asked to pick up the bins containing the weekend food bags from 10 schools and figure out how to deliver the bags to the students. Each school quickly prepared us a list, usually handwritten with a students’ name and address.
Shelley Lake, the Royal Oak program chairperson, called volunteers to pick up the Blessings bags and asked volunteers to deliver to the students on their list. Since our school district is a School of Choice, students may live anywhere in metropolitan Detroit which made delivery of the bags quite a task involving many hours and driving many miles.
All student lists were delivered back to Shelley, and she set out to develop some sort of delivery system that made sense. Shelley called the US Post Office and Federal Express for assistance and was not given any help nor ideas. So, she sorted out all the addresses by zip code. Once a student was in a zip code, she sorted the lists by street name and combined addresses close to one another. There were 29 delivery routes developed. It was then time to find volunteers to deliver the Blessings in a Backpack bags.
Facebook posts were initially a great help and the Royal Oak community wanted to be of help and provide a service during the initial days of the pandemic. The draw was of course the food insecurity issue and that we could not stand by while children were hungry. The volunteers for bag delivery were scheduled on every other week basis and could deliver bags at their convenience as we do not pack anything perishable. To prepare the bags, we needed volunteers to pack food in the bags. We’d lost some of regular packing volunteers due to the pandemic and their fear of being in a confined area to pack. We were allowed to have no more than eight people in the room where we store our inventory.
We decided to double pack weekend food every two weeks and our volunteers stepped up to the task. With volunteers to pack and volunteers to deliver Blessings bags, we started out on our mission to continue to deliver weekend food throughout the pandemic. With enough funding through a kind community gift, we continued through the summer. When school didn’t start again in September, we decided to just keep going and deliver weekend food every other week until such time students could all be back in school full time. After one year of packing and deliveries, we are continuing to pack and deliver Blessings bags to the children through the summer of 2021. Currently we pack for 211 students in the Royal Oak School system and our volunteers are still enthusiastic.