MASSENA — Back the Pack’s 10th year of providing healthy weekend snacks to students in Massena schools was anything but normal thanks to the pandemic. But, Chairperson Julianne C. Paquin said, the program persevered and continued to support area students.
The all-volunteer group completed a decade of operation on June 18, just as schools were getting set to close for the summer break.
Mrs. Paquin said that when the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, they had just received an order of snacks that would ordinarily be packaged and delivered to schools for distribution to students on Fridays.
“We had over $11,000 of food. We turned it over to the school system. We didn’t want it to expire. We called the school and said, ‘We can’t keep this. Would you be willing to take it?’ They did take it, which was great,” she said.
When school reopened last September, the Massena Central School District began the year with online learning, and COVID-19 kept people separated in many cases. For Back the Pack, the volunteer groups that would normally come in to assist with packing weren’t able to do so, with the exception of a group of Arconic employees as part of a grant received by Back the Pack.
“That was the only group we had in. We packed ourselves every few weeks. We couldn’t have groups because of COVID,” Mrs. Paquin said.
Back the Pack volunteers still delivered the packs to schools. But with some buildings closed and others open at different times of the year because of positive COVID-19 cases, the numbers dropped significantly.
“We didn’t deliver as many as in a normal year. At different times different schools had to shut down. By the end of the school year we had delivered almost 8,000 packs, not the usual 13,000,” she said.
Thanks to an Alcoa Foundation grant, Back the Pack was able to purchase more substantial food to provide to students later in the school year. And for the last pack of the year, each student received two $5 gift cards for McDonalds.
“They could get a child’s meal. They could have healthy food,” Mrs. Paquin said.
The Alcoa Foundation and Arconic weren’t the only groups that provided funding. She said she received calls from organizations she never heard of that had learned about the program.
“We had donations from different sources and our regular donations,” she said. “We have wonderful donors who donate year after year, month after month. I have people who make yearly donations. One woman donates twice a year.”
There may have been a pandemic, but Back the Pack still teamed up with the Italian American Club for its annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser. They sold more than 300 take-out dinners that day.
“We could have sold more. We had close to 330 people,” Mrs. Paquin said.
It’s been 10 years since Back the Pack first opened its doors, and volunteers continue to play a critical role in the organization’s success.
“Some come and go, but we still have a lot of the originals. Others joined and stayed with us. We have such a great group,” she said.