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In early December, the Helping Hands Food Pantry in Boswell received a grant of $2,500 from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies for their new weekend backpack program. Begun in September 2014, the program feeds children who benefit from free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches in the North Star School District elementary and middle schools. These children may otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

At the pantry on Thursdays, Delores Shaulis, who spearheaded the program, packs 53 bags of individually packaged food that are delivered to the two schools on Friday mornings. The children’s dignity is protected by using a generic plastic bag that holds about 25 items. Teachers unobtrusively slip the bags into the backpacks of children whose parents have agreed they may participate in the program.

Items change depending on donations from individuals and local supermarkets. They also depend upon individually packaged food available for discount purchase, largely from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Currently the food costs approximately $5 per bag.

“We are thrilled to have received the CFA grant money, which will ensure continuation of our mission throughout the school year,” said Georgia Sheftic, Director of the Pantry and President of the Board. “I’m grateful to Rick Whipkey, our Board Treasurer, and Linda DeLia, our Secretary, for helping to prepare the winning grant application.”

Feedback from the schools over the past three months indicates that the program is running smoothly and is much appreciated. The Pantry hopes to extend the backpack program into the summer months in conjunction with a free lunch and activities program for children in Boswell. Helping Hands is currently the only food pantry in Somerset County with a backpack program. Somerset First Christian Church also sponsors a program for Maple Ridge and Eagle View schools.

— Linda DeLia, Helping Hands Food Pantry

(In the photo above, from right to left: Carol Stern, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies; Delores Shaulis, Backpack Volunteer; Georgia Sheftic, Director, Helping Hands Food Pantry and President of the Board; Linda DeLia, Board Secretary; Rick Whipkey, Board Treasurer.)

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