Two Lambert High School students started their own chapter of Blessings in a Backpack in 2013, packing 50 bags of food every Friday to provide meals and feed students in need over the weekend.
As the only Forsyth County chapter of the national nonprofit, the students’ main goal then was to grow their Lambert chapter and provide food to as many kids in the county as possible.
Now, nine years later, the chapter has grown beyond what they ever dreamed, with current co-presidents Marco Nader and Michael Locurcio packing 383 meals every week alongside volunteers to give out to middle and elementary school students across Forsyth.
“Looking back, it’s crazy to see they packed 50 bags every week,” Locurcio said. “It probably was a lot of work, but that is so easy to us now.”
Both students are proud to see just how much the chapter has grown over the years and how much of an impact the club has had on the community.
Locurcio said he joined Blessings in a Backpack soon after learning about it during his first year at Lambert.
“I work in an afterschool program and at a summer camp and knowing that kids like the ones I work with get these bags to help feed them over the weekend, I just — I can’t even put it into words how amazing it feels,” Locurcio said.
That feeling is what motivates the club’s eight officers and dozens of volunteers to put in the more than 2,000 hours every school year to collect donations, pack bags of food and deliver them to the 14 elementary and middle schools they serve in the community.
The club collects monetary and food donations not only from families at Lambert and its feeder schools — Sharon, Brookwood and Johns Creek Elementary along with South and Riverwatch Middle — but also from community members and local businesses.
With their help, Nader said they can add two full meals, two breakfast items, two snacks and a container of applesauce to each of the 383 bags that community volunteers then spend 1-2 hours each Friday dropping off at the schools.
School counselors meet volunteers outside to pick up the meals, which they discreetly deliver to each student so they can have it in time for the weekend.
“[Our volunteers] wish they could see how happy the kids get every Friday when they get the bags of food, and that is very special to me,” Nader said. “That’s what drives the club. We don’t know the names of the kids we’re doing it for, but we know they’re in our county. And we’re willing to go out every week to do the work for them because it’s so worth it.”
Teachers do, however, occasionally share stories with the group to show them just how much of an impact they are having on certain kids. Locurcio said one story has always stood out to him.
One day, a teacher brought out a bag for her student while they were in the classroom alone. The fourth-grader looked into the bag, saw a package of ramen and immediately started hugging the teacher.
“He loved ramen so much, and he was just so happy he got ramen for the weekend,” Locurcio said. “I don’t know the child or his name or anything but knowing that what we do brings out that emotion in these kids makes it all worth it to me.”
Going forward, the Lambert students want to continue to grow the club and be able to provide food to every kid in the county who needs it. But to do that, they said they need help from the community.
Club sponsor Ed Gray said their chapter has struggled financially since the start of the pandemic.
“Covid has really hit us kind of hard on the donations side and has tapped into a lot of our reserves,” Gray said.
On top of that, the price of food items has risen significantly as inflation and supply shortages have impacted industries across the nation.
Back when the club first started, it cost close to $80 to fill bags for one student for the school year. Now, the average price is $150 per student — a total of $60,000 for the 380 students they serve.
But Gray said this financial pressure has also impacted families in Forsyth, and the demand for these bags of food has only grown.
“There are requests on a weekly basis to add more children to our list, and the last thing we want to say is ‘no,’” Gray said.
The students explained the lack of monetary donations is the only problem stopping the club from growing and being able to serve those kids.
“I would love to do so much more, but at the end of the day, someone has to pay for it,” Locurcio said.
Now, Gray and the students are calling on the community to donate or volunteer to help support the club and its mission.
Community members can donate by writing a check to “Blessings in a Backpack - Chapter 1305 Forsyth County” and sending it to 805 Nichols Road, Suwanee, GA 30024. They can also donate only by going to https://www.blessingsinabackpack.org/, clicking “Donate Now” and typing “Chapter 1305 - Forsyth County” into the program/school box.
Parents can donate through the school program MyPaymentsPlus by looking for LHS Blessings in a Backpack under the Events & Activities tab.
Adults who may be interested in helping deliver bags to schools throughout the county can email Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Lambert students said that each donation and every hour volunteers spend on the food bags means the world not only to the club but to the families who receive them.
“It has such a tangible impact on our county,” Nader said. “I feel it’s our responsibility, really, to help the students around us since we have the resources and the time to do it.”