Church group fills backpacks with food for SCUSD kids
Bowling Green McCoy is first Northern California school to participate in 'Blessings in a Backpack'

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Members of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in East Sacramento spend every Thursday evening  filling backpacks with food for 100 qualified Bowling Green McCoy Academy students.

The food is a gift to kids who might not have enough to eat over the weekend.

And church members say the program, called “Blessings in a Backpack,” is a gift to the volunteers who participate.

“It’s so heartwarming to be around our members on Thursday night,” says Chris Dariotis, program organizer. “It makes them feel so good. It makes me feel good!”

“Blessings in a Backpack” is a national program started in two schools in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2005. Elementary school children who qualify for a free or reduced priced lunch — the federal poverty threshold — are provided with a backpack of food to take home for 38 weekends during the school year.

Backpack food includes easy-to-prepare, ready-to-eat foods, like granola bars, juice boxes, applesauce and oatmeal.

In the seven years since its start, “Blessings in a Backpack” has grown to serve 427 schools in 42 states and three countries, feeding nearly 62,000 kids.

Bowling Green McCoy Academy is the first school in Northern California to participate, thanks to Dariotis. 

A Carmichael resident whose son attends a private school, Dariotis spent two years getting the program up and running. After learning about it, she sent for a starter kit and began researching local schools that might be open to implementing the program.

The first call she made was to Bowling Green McCoy. After doing some research herself, Principal Susan Gibson agreed to give it a try.

Typically, participating groups purchase the food from Walmart to keep the program budget to $8,000 a year (“Blessings” is a three-year commitment). But Dariotis wanted to support the local Raley’s/Bel-Air chain. To make the pricing work, Raley’s non-profit foundation donated $4,500 to the cause and the chain agreed to discount groceries by 10 percent. 

Dariotis also enticed Coca-Cola to donate all the apple and orange juice for the program.

“The response from the community has been great,” she says. “People have been coming out of the woodwork with checks for us.”

Dariotis says the more her church gives to the program the more members want to expand it. They would like to serve more kids with more food. Some members also find the program’s nutritional requirements too, um, restrictive.

“They ask me ‘Can’t we put in some cookies?’ ” she says, laughing. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries to slip some baklava in these backpacks one of these days.”

Dariotis hopes others in the community will follow her lead and investigate starting a program at another school.

“I’m so passionate about this,” she says. “I’m hoping others will feel passionate about it, too.”

For more information about “Blessings in a Backpack,” visit www.blessingsinabackpack.org.