Thanks to the votes from the community, the Shaler Area Backpack Initiative was selected to receive a $25,000 grant in order to provide healthier food for students who take part in the program.
The Backpack initiative was started by Melissa Matlock and Shelley West in 2014. They had been surviving off monetary and food donations and fundraisers to keep the program running, when Dana Aigner, the parent of a former Shaler Area student approached them about the State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant. Aigner, who worked for a local state farm agent, explained the grant to Matlock and West, and soon after entered them into the program.
The Backpack initiative was entered in a list of community programs to be evaluated by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, who would score the program on a rubric. Following that, the Youth Advisory Board chose the highest scoring 200 causes out of almost 2000 applicants. Out of the 200, the 40 programs with the most votes were chosen to receive a $25,000 grant.
This year, the Shaler Area Backpack Initiative was the only nonprofit in Pennsylvania to receive a Neighborhood Assist grant.
The Backpack Initiative sends food to 200-250 children every weekend. Each family who participates in the program receives a paper bag packed with child-friendly, single-serving snacks, and easily prepared meals each Friday. The food selections include two breakfast items, two lunch items, and two snacks to last the weekend.
The $25,000 grant will be used to give the program more flexibility when purchasing items for the backpacks. As well as helping the meal plans be made healthier for the children.
“With the grant money, we will purchase healthier food options that are too expensive under our current budget. Along with other community donations, we will be able to make the money last us through the end of next year, “ West said.
Hopefully, the grant will allow the program to grow into other communities and include several more families in the Backpack Initiative.
At a school board meeting on January 18th, The Backpack Initiative will receive the $25,000 check.