When Michael and Sari Oppenheim heard about “Blessings in a Backpack,” a non-profit organization that aims to meet the nutritional needs of underprivileged children and their families, they decided to get their friends involved and carry the tradition in Miami.
The siblings, along with their friends from Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, showed their holiday spirit and kicked off their fourth school year in the program by delivering backpacks of food to 400 students at Francis S. Tucker Elementary School earlier this month.
“We figured Tucker Elementary was the perfect place because they are only a few blocks away,” said Oppenheim, 19. “We felt that it was a school that needed it and we wanted to be there to help.”
Blessings in a Backpack provides elementary schools, such as Tucker, where nearly all students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, with backpacks filled with non-perishable foods such as granola bars, apple sauce, soups and more to take home for 38 weekends throughout the school year. The program, which started with just two schools in 2005, currently feeds more than 63,000 students in 45 states.
When Ransom Everglades students decided to help Tucker Elementary in March 2011, they became the first school in Miami-Dade County to “adopt a school” through the national program.
Annette DeGoti, principal of Tucker Elementary, is thankful for the program and talked about the significance of it.
“Every Friday, they take home backpacks so that they have something to eat during the weekend,” said DeGoti, who is in her sixth year as principal. “I feel as if now all of my children have something nutritional to eat throughout the weekend, and we are blessed to have this every Friday.”
The Oppenheim family came together with two other families – the Deutch and Schatz families – and along with the help of fundraisers and donations, they were able to raise enough money to support the program, which costs about $32,000 per school year.
Jennifer Deutch, 18, talked about how she and her brother Matthew, 16, got involved in the beginning.
“Funding was the biggest challenge, but we received a lot of support,” said Deutch, who graduated from Ransom Everglades this year and is a freshman at Vanderbilt University. “We were inspired by our school’s mission of giving back to those in need, and we felt that this was a great place and a great way to impact the community.”
Mia Schatz, 14, along with her two siblings – Ryan and Marlee – feel that the emotional involvement is what makes the entire process worthwhile.
“Seeing all of their faces once they get their backpacks is my favorite part,” said Mia, current student at Ransom Everglades. “I go home for the holidays and I have a lot of food but knowing that some people don’t reminds me of how important it is to help out.”
According to the families involved, the most significant aspect of programs like these is that they bring awareness and inspire others to do the same.