Children living in low-income areas of Indiana get some relief from empty refrigerators and bare pantries, thanks to the Indiana State Council’s 2010 Pinnacle Award-winning “BackSacks …Weekend Food for Kids” program.
Indiana was one of two state councils and nine chapters that won the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual competition. Winners were announced during the SHRM Leadership Conference in November 2010.
The Indiana council has worked since 2009 to reduce child hunger in Indiana through food and monetary donations collected at its annual state conference in Indianapolis, which draws more than 1,000 attendees.
Its charitable effort is in partnership with Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Inc. and Bright Ideas in Broad Ripple Inc., both located in Indianapolis. Recycled conference bags, supplied by Bright Ideas, are filled with donated food that Gleaners volunteers distribute to needy children. Approximately 103,000 children live in poverty in the 21 central and southeastern Indiana areas that Gleaners serves, according to the food bank’s website.
“The BackSacks not only assure that each child has enough to eat over the weekend, but they help defray the parent’s grocery bills,” State Council Director Betty Lonis, SPHR, wrote in the council’s Pinnacle Award application.
The bags contain items such as breakfast bars, fresh and canned fruit, peanut butter, pudding, applesauce, soups and microwavable food such as macaroni and cheese. They are distributed every Thursday or Friday at Boys & Girls Clubs, participating schools and Gleaners’ Kids Café sites. One news report explained that at a school in Indianapolis where the bags of provisions are distributed, they “are slipped discreetly into [children’s] backpacks” when the children are at lunch.
How It Worked
The council wanted to make its 2009 state conference more environmentally friendly and was looking for a way to recycle its conference bags when it heard about the BackSacks program from a Bright Ideas representative. It seemed like a perfect fit for its outreach efforts, according to Lonis.
“Typically, we have a charitable piece to our conference,” she said.
Once it identified the Gleaners program as the recipient for its bags, the council selected a backpack style that children could use, then looked for ways to fill them.
Gleaners provided six collection barrels—two for conference bags and four for food—located next to the registration table during the conference. A jar at the table held monetary contributions; monetary donations also were collected during the closing luncheon. The funds were used to purchase food for the backsacks.
A council member distributed a raffle ticket for every $1 or food contribution. The prize: free registration to the next year’s state conference.
“It was really amazing to watch [the barrels] fill up over the course of the three-day conference,” Lonis said.
During the second year of the program, a Gleaners representative was available at the collection site to educate attendees about the not-for-profit organization and the critical food shortage and how to conduct a food drive at their place of employment
The first year of the program, the council collected bags from 75 percent of attendees, two barrels of food and $1,503 in cash. The cash alone provided meals to 300 children for one weekend.
In 2010, the council collected bags from 90 percent of attendees, 2.5 barrels of food and $3,400 in cash. The money provided meals to 680 children for one weekend.
“At the end of the conference, collection barrels were overflowing with donations from attendees,” Lonis noted in the Pinnacle application. Having Gleaners representatives on hand the second year, she added, helped educate 1,100 employers throughout the state “regarding the critical food crisis currently under way and on ways to address the issue” through employer food drives.
The program, she said, “really was very, very simple” to execute. The council “saw it as a great thing to do in giving back. We just wanted to have an impact as an organization, and they helped us do that.”
Gleaners and other organizations have similar programs around the nation. Lonis suggested that councils, chapters and workplaces consider this as a project.
“I don’t think it’s unique to Indiana,” she said of childhood hunger in the United States. “It’s just something we can have a huge impact on, and it’s easy to do.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.