A regional program aimed at providing students with nutritious food during weekends or times of school closure will receive assistance from a local Wegmans store.
As a company, Wegmans has had a long history of partnership with the Food Bank of Western New York. This year, for the first time, Wegmans' Western New York division will be an active participant in the food bank's annual "Fill the Backpack" food-drive campaign.
"Fill the Backpack" is program made available to children who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals and have been pre-selected by teachers, guidance counselors and school staff for participation. There are 16 schools participating in the program across the Food Bank of Western New York's service area - which includes Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties. Chautauqua County is home to two of these participating schools: Love Elementary School and Dunkirk School 7.
Wegmans of Jamestown employees are pictured at the display promoting Wegmans’ participation in the Food Bank of Western New York’s annual “Fill the Backpack” food donation campaign. From left are: Sarah Nowes, service team leader; Amanda Howell, front end coordinator; Danielle Amico, produce manager; Kim Davis, service team leader; and Shawn Sanfilippo, grocery manager.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
The campaign, which kicked off Sunday, will run through June 28, by which time Wegmans of Jamestown hopes to have met its goal of 5,000 net pounds of non-perishable food donated to the food bank.
The store has produced a list of suggested food items which customers can purchase and donate to the campaign, including elbow pasta, six packs of apple sauce cups, canned corn and creamy peanut butter.
Other items include condensed chicken noodle soup, condensed tomato soup and macaroni and cheese.
According to Danielle Amico, produce manager and coordinator of the store's participation in the program, the campaign is emphasizing the donation of non-perishable foods because the food is to be distributed in the upcoming 2014-15 school year.
"We have displays all over the store, across all the register tops and we have signage everywhere," Amico said. "Obviously, we'll take anything, but these are the ones we're focusing on because these items will carry over to the next school year. We're basically just trying to ramp them up so they don't have to rely on so many donations. And then they'll take care of all the perishable items once the school year starts."
Amico said the program has been met with a positive response as of its first day, reporting that nearly 250 pounds of food had been collected within four hours of launching.
"We've heard a lot of really good feedback (Sunday) just because of the fact that it's a tangible donation, not necessarily monetary, and it's something that's staying right here in our school districts," she said. "We do hold a lot of monetary donation campaigns in this store, but this one definitely stands out because it's something completely different."
She said Wegmans is also trying to get its employees engaged in the program by fostering a friendly interdepartmental competition.
"Each department in our store is going to see how many donations or pounds they can get from their employees, and then the winning department will get a prize. We're just trying to get as much involvement as we can storewide," she said.
In addition to the 5,000 pounds of food the Jamestown store hopes to raise, the goal for the division - which also includes Buffalo-based stores - is 50,000 pounds.
"That will support enough backpacks to get them through Christmas break," she said.
More than 35,000 backpacks were distributed in the 2013-14 campaign, and the 50,000 pounds of food Wegmans' Western New York division hopes to raise would account for the construction of approximately 12,500 backpacks. Each backpack is filled with cereal, fruit juice, shelf-stable milk, canned soups and whole grain snacks. In addition to the items collected through "Fill the Backpack," the weekly backpacks will also contain kid-friendly snacks, milk, juice and fresh fruit.
The Food Bank of Western New York serves approximately 43,000 children and infants through member agencies, and through programs such as "Fill the Backpack." The backpack program is funded exclusively by grants, foundations and private donations.