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Back the Pack serving 250 Massena elementary students weekly

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MASSENA - The Back the Pack program, which provides healthy weekend snacks for Massena elementary schools, is now serving 250 children a week, according to Committee Chairperson Julianne C. Paquin.

They’re serving students in grades kindergarten through six at Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale elementary schools, as well as Trinity Catholic School, an effort that costs them about $35,000 a year, Ms. Paquin said.

“That’s all private donations and fundraising,” she said.

The program is providing snacks for 75 students each at Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale and for 25 students at Trinity.

“All three elementary schools are at their maximum,” Ms. Paquin said.

The Back the Pack program, which was started by a group of local volunteers 18 months ago, was formed to ensure that children in the Massena’s elementary schools aren’t going hungry. They now have about 50 volunteers.

“They’ve just been phenomenal. I’m jus so proud of the whole group. Everyone works so hard,” she said.

Their goal is to gather monetary donations, food donations or sponsorships so they can provide healthy, hearty weekend snacks for children in need when school meals are unavailable.

The group gathers the items, puts them in Ziploc bags and distributes them to the school. Madison Elementary School was the pilot school, and they’ve since expanded to include all of Massena’s elementary schools.

“We started our first distribution a year ago October with Madison. We expanded every three months until last April when we had all four elementary schools involved,” Ms. Paquin said.

School counselors identify children in need, and they get authorization from those parents to let the students participate in the program. The teachers put the bags into the students’ backpacks every Friday so they have the snacks to munch on over the weekend.

Among the items the children will find are breakfast bars, sandwich crackers, cereals, fruit cups, raisins and fruit punch - whatever can be packed into the Ziploc bag for distribution.

“We’re doing the maximum we can afford to do. We have enough to cover what we know we need,” Ms. Paquin said.

Their efforts for the 2012-13 school year began again this fall, and they’ve held fundraisers during the year to raise more money. Those fundraisers included souvenir cup sales in cooperation with the Massena Central football team, an American Legion Michigan Hots night and a spaghetti dinner at the Italian-American Club, which was a big hit.

“We literally sold out of everything,” she said.

They were also the beneficiaries of the proceeds from the 12th annual Dam 4-Miler Walk/Run held in September at the New York Power Authority’s Hawkins Point Visitors Center, and Ms. Paquin said they were involved in the Bon Ton Community Days.

In addition, a Trivia Night at the Massena Elks Lodge raised more money.

“We had a lot of fun. We enjoyed it,” she said.

Most recently, Curves did a food drive, and students at Rose Hill packed 1,000 snack packs and helped unload a truck filled with a two-month supply of food. Second-grade students and teachers at Madison Elementary School meanwhile collected food items in December as part of their study of the character education theme of citizenship and compassion.

They sent a letter home to parents asking for help with that project and requesting items such as individual cereal boxes, peanut butter crackers, individual bags of Goldfish, Cheese Nips, pretzels and snack mix, pudding cups, fruit cups, Granola and cereal bars, and fruit snacks.

“I insist two boxes of cereal go into each pack. It’s our most expensive item,” Ms. Paquin said.

Looking ahead, Alcoa and the New York Power Authority will be visiting their warehouse on Wednesday to pack items. They use the former Arrow building on East Orvis Street, which has been made available to them for no charge by Massena Savings and Loan.

It’s that kind of assistance that has kept the program going, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of private donations, and a lot of organizations have stepped forward. The money is spent only on food,” Ms. Paquin said.

The group is not holding any fundraisers right now, but will as the year progresses, she said.

“We’re not doing anything right now. We will do some in the spring,” she said.

They will, however, take donations any time of the year.

“Fundraising is an on-going project. Anyone that ever wants to donate can send it to Back the Pack, P.O. Box 16, Massena, New York 13662,” Ms. Paquin said.

New volunteers are also welcomed.

“We’re always happy to have new members,” she said.

Their next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 13 at the former Arrow building.

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