Punishers raise awareness of local backpack program

September 27, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — Proper nutrition is important for learning but not every child has access to food they need outside of school. Scottsbluff Public Schools faculty noticed some students were hungry when they returned to school after the weekend. With the visible need, they decided to stuff CAT packs into students’ backpacks. This weekend, the Punishers are helping the Cooperative Ministry Council put on a picnic to raise community awareness for the Scottsbluff and Gering backpack program. The picnic will be on Saturday, September 29 from noon to 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, located at 2002 4th Ave., in Scottsbluff.

The Punishers are a law enforcement motorcycle club that helps their community. Member of the Punishers Aaron Harper said, “we are here to help the community, but our biggest thing is to help kids.”

The event will have activities for kids from a bounce house and corn hole to a washer toss and sidewalk chalk. Youth who attend the picnic will also receive a goodie bag.

While there is no charge to attend the event, the public is asked to donate food items for the Scottsbluff/Gering Snackpack Program. Some of the food items requested include individual cereal boxes, instant oatmeal, granola bars, easy mac, ramen noodles, juice boxes, canned fruits, veggies, soups, and meals, and snack crackers.

Missi Iasillo helps coordinate the CAT Packs program for Scottsbluff Public Schools and said there are 80 students enrolled in the program, but by the end of the school year, there are around 125 students signed up. Students signed up for the program include academic grades from preschool to high school in Scottsbluff and Gering. “Kids are so looking forward to getting their CAT packs at the end of each week,” said Iasillo.

Gering’s program has around 55 students signed up, but Gering coordinator Tracy Steele said those numbers are down because of the beginning of the school year. On average, there are over 200 students in both districts signed up to receive the cat and pup packs.

Volunteers help pack and haul the meals to the schools every week. Nancy Kepler has been involved with the Scottsbluff program for 8 years and said in that time the numbers continue to increase. “We started with 15 packs and now we’re up to sometimes 100,” she said. “There’s definitely a need.”

The backpack program started in 2009 after school personnel at Scottsbluff schools noticed how hungry some students were when they returned to classes on Monday. From that observation, the school counselors and teachers took referrals and sent forms home for families to gauge interest in students getting a backpack of food on Fridays. The program was funded by the Cooperative Ministries Program, which includes several churches in Scottsbluff and Gering.

After the program launched successfully in the Scottsbluff schools, Gering schools joined the program during the spring semester.

Volunteers convene at the First Presbyterian Church on Tuesday in Scottsbluff and First State Bank on Wednesday in Gering.

As the students receive help with their nutrition during the weekends, Iasillo said that the program has helped families get over the hump and become more financial stable due to changes in their situation.

As this Saturday’s picnic approaches, the money and food collected will be taken to the Presbyterian Church where contributors pack the goodies and distribute them to the schools.

The next fundraiser for the Scottsbluff/Gering Snackpack Program is Sam & Louie’s Day on October 14. The program teams up with Sam & Louie’s pizza and Italian restaurant in Scottsbluff and receives 5 to 10 percent of that day’s profits for the backpack program. Another upcoming event is the WyoBraska Gives through the Oregon Trail. That event is scheduled for November 13.

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