A decade of feeding hungry children

Erin Chandler | Jan 04, 2023
Five members of the Kiwanis Club of Ticonderoga pack food from cardboard boxes into backpacks

In January 2013, the Kiwanis Club of Ticonderoga, New York, U.S., packed 30 backpacks with nutritious, shelf-stable food and delivered them to Ticonderoga Elementary School, which had identified the students most in need of assistance. The effort was so successful that, over the years, the Ticonderoga Backpack Program grew to reach more children and families who were unable to afford food for the weekend.  

Last year, the club received a club grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund to help it serve over 100 students across four schools.  

Backpack programs are among the most popular Kiwanis International club service projects. John Bartlett, who spearheaded the launch of the Kiwanis Club of Ticonderoga’s program as club president, believes he knows why: The goal of the project is “pretty simple — we try to feed hungry children.”  

The initial challenge of the program, Bartlett says, was simply not knowing how to get enough food into the hands — and the backpacks — of kids who needed it. He found that the answer lay in his community, through partnerships with the school district, other charitable organizations, companies and individuals who wanted to help.  

“A lot of those issues were resolved for us when we identified the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York as a partner,” says Bartlett. The food bank collects and distributes large donations of food from the food industry at below-retail prices. It decides what food to order and deliver to a nearby community for club members to pick up. It also provides gift certificates for recipients to purchase milk and eggs.  

The Kiwanis Club of Ticonderoga pays for the food largely through its annual fundraiser — a chicken barbecue and basket raffle — put on by area real estate company Brannock Properties.  

“I am fond of saying that when most people hear about what we are doing, their response is, ‘How can I help? What can I do? Where can I send money?’” Bartlett says. “A lot of people want to help us and support us.”  

For 34 weeks of the school year, Kiwanians pack the food into backpacks to be distributed to students in need, picking up empty backpacks to be filled the next week. During eight weeks of summer, they provide a week’s worth of groceries directly to parents.  

Because the backpack program aims to be discreet, club members rarely see the effects of their efforts in person — but they know they’re making a difference. And Bartlett adds that, during the summer, “we do get a lot of gracious thank-you’s” from parents. “Those things really go a long way toward reinforcing that we’re doing the right thing.”  

Over the years, the club’s ability to serve has increased, but so has the need. Ticonderoga Kiwanians found a decade ago that hunger and food insecurity were significant problems in their community — problems that can lead to negative effects on children’s health and ability to learn. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation have only exacerbated the challenge — kids learning at home were not able to get school lunches, families have faced increasing financial uncertainty, the cost of food has risen and community members have less to spare for fundraisers and donations.  

That’s why the club applied last year for a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund. Money from the grant will help the club purchase more food from the Regional Food Bank of New York to keep up with the growing demand.  

The Children’s Fund makes grants that improve the lives of children around the world. They identified the Ticonderoga Backpack Program as a project that creates a continuum of impact in a child’s life — one that spans their entire childhood and sets them up for a bright future. They were particularly impressed by how actively involved club members are in the project, doing a large amount of the work themselves.  

By funding projects like the Ticonderoga Backpack Program that target the Kiwanis causes of health and nutrition, education and literacy, and youth leadership development (whether through a Kiwanis club’s local service project or through a club’s partner), the Children’s Fund ensures that its grantmaking has the greatest possible impact.  

Bartlett, who wrote his club’s grant application, would encourage other clubs to apply as well. “Once you have a project that is appropriate and benefits children and you’ve done your homework,” he says, “it should be a pretty straightforward process.”  

The benefits of receiving the grant are equally straightforward: “With more funding, we can feed more children.”  

And that is exactly what the club intends to do in its second decade.  

If you are interested in extending your and your club’s impact beyond your community by giving to the Children’s Fund or applying for a club grant, visit the Kiwanis Children’s Fund page


Vision Partners

Be a Partner