Portage Health staff walks for 31 Backpacks

HANCOCK – Rhiannon Schmidt was walking casually but briskly on a treadmill in the Portage Health cafeteria Saturday, but she was still able to carry on a conversation.

Schmidt, who works in cardiac rehabilitation at Portage Health, was taking part in a “walk-a-thon” to raise money for 31 Backpacks, which she learned about from a neighbor involved with the organization.

31 Backpacks was created by Laurel Maki, her daughter Melissa Maki, and friend Amy Zadawa in October. They began the program, which provides enough food for a weekend put into backpacks for students who may not otherwise have enough to eat, after Laurel Maki learned some students were going hungry during the weekends.

The program is now working with 90 students in the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools, the Hancock Public Schools and Houghton-Portage Township School District.

Schmidt said besides supporting 31 Backpacks, she was talking part in the walk-a-thon for another reason.

“(It’s) also to get people to think about moving,” she said.

Joni Erkkila, Portage Health health coordinator, said the fundraiser was the idea of the hospital’s Portage Employees Recognizing, Caring and Helping. Five local non-profit groups were considered and 31 Backpacks was chosen for the first-ever walk-a-thon.

“We hope to do similar events in the future,” she said.

Erkkila said the event was for Portage Health employees only. Participants walked for 15 minutes and donated $10.

“Some employees have raised more than that,” she said.

The event was part of Wellness Day at the hospital, Erkkila said, which in turn was part of national Hospital Week. Forty participants walked from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the end of the day, $673.13 was raised. Some of that money was from a donation jar set up near the treadmill.

“It’s a great way to get employees active as well as raising money for a good cause,” she said.