When Peggy Reese heard about children taking ketchup packets home from school and using them to make soup, she knew she had to do something.
She began gathering food for a local elementary school to send home with students experiencing food insecurity on the weekends to ensure they would have meals. Her daughter, a backpack designer in California, donated bags for the children to carry the food in. Reese’s neighbors and friends began helping as well, donating food and money to the cause.
Reese called her efforts the “Still Cool After School” program. The program started at the end of 2010 and about a year into it, Reese was filling 20 backpacks in her garage each week to be delivered to one school in Cache Valley. Since then, the Cache Community Food Pantry has partnered with her to help administer the program which now feeds over 280 students at 13 schools.
“It is exciting that we are able to serve so many kids,” Reese said.
After nearly a decade of organizing and coordinating the backpack program, Reese will now be retiring from this work. She said her current assignment in her church congregation demands a lot of her time. Although she will be significantly less involved in the program, the work of hunger advocacy will always be important to her.
Sue Sorenson, the current principal at Wilson Elementary School and a former principal at Ellis Elementary, was one of the first administrators to work with Reese. She said the program was exactly what the students at her school needed.
“If your basic needs aren’t met, it is really hard to focus on math facts,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson referenced the old African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” in describing Reese’s work, which Sorenson said is an example of the difference one person’s passion can make.
“Peggy is a hero for this community,” she said.
Michelle Welch is a member of the social justice committee at St. Thomas Aquinas. After hearing about Reese’s program, she and other members of the committee wanted to help. Their group of volunteers is in charge of food distribution for Wilson Elementary.
“Peggy brought a lot of great energy to this program. It was something she really took to heart and wanted to see grow,” Welch said.
As the program continues to expand, Welch said both in-kind and monetary donations are very important to make sure it continues. According to Jake Netzley of the Cache Community Food Pantry, it costs about $15,000 for the pantry to administer the program each year.
Welch said the donations for the program are not keeping up with the growing demand and she hopes community members would be willing to change that.
According to Netzley, this community involvement is what leads to real change.
“We could try to do it ourselves, but without the community involvement, without people being proactive and looking for different ways to help and things like that, we are not going to grow. We are not going to make a dent in the problem,” Netzley said.
People can support the program by buying prepackaged meals at Macey’s in Providence or by donating money or specific food items that are put in the backpacks to the food pantry.
Netzley said monetary donations are the most helpful because it makes it easier to ensure food is used before the expiration date. The program is also in need of volunteers who can help with packing the food and delivering it to schools. For more information or to help, visit cachefoodpantry.com or call (435)753-7140.