Students help others with Snackpac

Lily Dale
Hannah Tellor, left, and Olyvia Palacios fill lunch sacks with food items. The Weekend Snackpac program donates these lunches to students who qualify for free or reduced lunches in the Metamora area.

It’s early evening on a Monday night and the Great Oaks Community Church gym in Germantown Hills is abuzz with activity.

About 20 girls from Brownie Troop #4729 and their moms are half-walking, half-jumping around tables while packing non-perishable food items into brown paper sacks. Tonight they have volunteered to help out the Weekend Snackpac program by putting together enough weekend meals for students of lower-income families to feed them for a month.

Troop Leader Stacy Tellor says, “Our troop is always looking for ways to serve the community. We came up with ideas before the school year and contacted different people about volunteer opportunities. One suggestion was to help with the weekend Snackpac.”

Not only did the girls volunteer their time to help pack food items into brown paper bags, they also collected more than 500 items to donate.

The local branch of the Weekend Snackpac program is run by Debbie Rauh. Rauh had heard about Jan Unsicker, a Woodford County woman who runs a similar program at Washburn Elementary School. Unsicker’s church “adopted” the Washburn students and they provide the food or funds for the paper bag meals. This program was expanded and now Unsicker helps match churches with schools so they can work as a team.

“I called Jan to offer my help and found out that Metamora Grade School was interested in the program, but no church had stepped up to help,” says Rauh, so she got busy mobilizing a team of ladies whose job was to organize area churches, businesses, and community members.

Together, they got the Metamora branch of the Weekend Snackpac up and running.

Packing day is a busy day for Rauh and her team of volunteers. They arrive at Great Oaks Community Church early in the morning to set up all the items that will go into the paper sacks.

Each sack contains about eight different items.

“We supply four lunch items, two breakfast items, and two snack items,” says Rauh. The Snackpacs include everything from instant macaroni and cheese, applesauce, fruit drinks, and granola bars, to other foods. Rauh tries to keep the items as healthy as possible and even provides lunches for students who have special food allergies.

Volunteers of all ages arrive in the evening to pack the items into the sacks. On this particular evening, the Brownies and their moms are making the packing look like fun. By the end of the night, the girls have packed between 250 and 275 brown paper bags.

Tellor says, “I think they were surprised when told how many sacks they filled ... especially since it went so quickly. Volunteering gives the girls a sense of accomplishment and helps put things in perspective for them.”

Rauh teamed up last spring with Metamora Grade School where they began with 23 students.

This year, that number shot up to 55 students. Before long, Weekend Snackpac expanded into Metamora Township High School and Germantown Hills Elementary, Intermediate, and Middle schools for a total of about 85 students per week.

“Our hope is to take care of all students in our community,” said Rauh.

Given the recent state of the economy, the number of students Weekend Snackpac feeds may continue to rise. At MTHS alone, the percentage of students classified as low-income shot up from 9.1 percent in 2009 to 12.3 percent in 2010, according to the school’s report card listed on their website.

“It’s encouraging to know that there’s a program out there to help meet the needs of students,” said MTHS Assistant Principal Pete List.

Students who participate in the free and reduced lunch program throughout the state of Illinois are eligible for the Weekend Snackpac. The program is funded by donations from local area churches, community residents, and area businesses. If you’d like to donate funds, food items or your time, contact Debbie Rauh at debbie@mtco.com.