In December of 2014, Sandie Nagel was shocked when a Baltimore City Public Schools social worker informed her that the school where she regularly delivered hats and gloves had more than 100 homeless students. This fact left such an impact on Nagel that she decided she would put together weekend backpacks, a nutrition campaign she had heard about on a popular talk show. In March 2015, Nagel and her husband Fred packed food in their first set of weekend backpacks on her kitchen table.
The GBC recently interviewed Nagel about the organization she subsequently started, Weekend Backpacks for Kids.
GBC: What’s the impact that these backpacks make on the community?
Sandie Nagel: Hungry children cannot learn. What happens is that when a child comes to school hungry, they can’t function mentally. Baltimore City Schools serve the kids breakfast and lunch every day, and some schools even get a snack in the afternoon. But come Friday afternoon to Monday morning, these children have little-to-no food. As a result, when they come to school on Monday morning, all of their [blood sugar] levels are down. It takes the kids almost half the day to get back up to speed after having the school breakfast. We [provide] the interim food for them. Kids that are hungry also go to the nurse’s office more often with stomach aches and headaches, as a result they get sent home and miss class time. This program also takes the pressure off of [the family] for the food situation. When schools are closed, it can sometimes be over 100 hours that these children go between meals. Our backpack program adjusts that so if it is a long weekend, they get extra meals.
What type of support does this program require?
It costs approximately $10,000 a school year per school. We service 20 schools in Baltimore City. We go from Cherry Hill to Govans, from Pikesville to Greektown, so we cover the entire city. We are a 100% volunteer organization. Nobody is paid, so all the money goes to feeding the kids. We are funded by donations, as well as our big event that is coming up, which is called For Our Kids.
What can attendees expect from the event?
It is at Woodholme Country Club on Monday, November 4, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. It is a chef’s event. We have 28 restaurants that will be making a signature dish. We are expecting 400 or 500 people there. The event makes enough to pay for more than half of our budget.
How can the business community get involved?
Financial support is always our priority, as we pay for all of the food. Even though we have donations, the bulk of our food is purchased, but at tremendous discount rates. We know many organizations have food drives over the Christmas season for kids. We worry about January through March, which is the downtime for giving. We are looking for an organization to do [what we are calling] snow bags. We need 600 bags of food packed to have on hand in case we hear that there will be inclement weather and schools will be closed for a day or two. Organizations can collect food, money or do a day of service with us.
Also see: Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids
By Zoe Adams, GBC