MASSENA — When the 2022-23 school year wraps up, so will Massena’s Back the Pack program.
The program, which provides healthy weekend snacks to Massena students, will close its doors after running for 12 years.
Back the Pack Chair Julianne C. Paquin said the cost of food was the main contributing factor in the decision to cease operations.
“What brought it about was a number of things. No. 1, the cost of food is prohibitive. What used to cost me around $25,000 cost me almost $60,000 for four orders this year. It’s only going to continue to go up,” Mrs. Paquin said.
She said the number of children Back the Pack serves has grown to about 335 children every week.
“The first year, we handed out 4,200 bags. This year will probably be 11,600 bags. Over a 12-year period, I think we’ll have handed out more than 150,000 snack packs. The need is there,” she said.
Another reason to cease the program is fundraising, Mrs. Paquin said. Donors have supported the program since its inception.
“Our donors have been absolutely wonderful. I’ve got some donors who every month for years have sent us checks. I had a woman this year who called and we went to see her and she gave us a check for $10,000. She didn’t want anyone to know her name or anything, but she said she wanted to do this. She donated to us twice each year for a number of years. So, I have wonderful people who donate every single year. We send our fundraising letters and they respond immediately. Our civic groups have been wonderful. Our veterans groups have been wonderful. So have people in general,” she said.
But, donations may not help cover the ever-increasing cost of food.
“We’re just this little organization. I think next year we’ll possibly be approaching almost $70,000. I’m guessing at that now, but it seems like that’s going to happen. For a small group like us to raise that kind of money is just nearly impossible,” Mrs. Paquin said.
Back the Pack also holds fundraisers, but those also fail to generate enough revenue to keep the program going.
“It’s hard to hold raffles anymore. We do our spaghetti dinner, but that doesn’t raise anywhere near enough money, although it’s a wonderful fundraiser and we love to do it,” she said.
Mrs. Paquin said the nonprofit group has been fortunate to have set up a distribution center at three locations over the years, all rent-free. The program now works from a space in the St. Lawrence Centre mall.
“We’ve been so careful with the money. We’ve never paid rent and utilities, and all the years all of our money really went for food and storage bins for food,” she said.
Like other organizations, Back the Pack is also dealing with an aging group of volunteers. She said some members are approaching their 80s while others have already reached that age, and younger volunteers aren’t stepping forward.
“I want to thank the Massena community for all the support they’ve given us over these years, and the volunteers who have been absolutely wonderful, dedicated volunteers. They’ve been great. A lot of the people started with me. We lost one person early on to cancer. Some people have moved away. But, you know, we’ve kept chugging along,” she said.
Back the Pack was organized by a group of volunteers in 2011, and they used Madison Elementary School as the test site before expanding to other Massena schools. The snack packs are distributed to schools weekly, and the students who receive the packs are identified by school counselors and principals.