Local fundraising efforts help 31 Backpacks grow

HANCOCK – The organization called 31 Backpacks has been providing food for some local students who may not be getting enough to eat on the weekends since October 2012, and although two of the program’s creators are pleased with its progress, they hope to include even more children.

Laurel Maki, who with her daughter, Melissa Maki, and friend Amy Zadawa, started 31 Backpacks, said the organization relies on monetary donations, and a recent donation of $3,500 was very helpful. An event called Play It Forward for 31 Backpacks at the American Legion Lakes Lounge in Lake Linden organized by Beverly Solomonson and Sarah Koski included seven bands, a silent auction and raffles.

“It was amazing,” Maki said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Maki said other recent fundraising events for 31 Backpacks included a treadmill Walk-A-Thon for Portage Health employees, a donation from the students at Hancock Middle School and Casual Friday donations from employees at Ojibwa Casino in Baraga.

Maki said after starting last year at just the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, the program is now in five school districts including C-L-K, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools, Hancock Public Schools, Houghton-Portage Township School District and Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools. The program serves 87 students.

Easy-to-prepare food is put into backpacks so students in need could easily carry the food home for weekend meals, which they may not otherwise have.

Although the 31 Backpacks program is done for the school year, Maki said the organization is working with Love INC, a partnership of local churches organized to meet various needs of community members, to provide food for students in need during the summer, and it seems to be effective already.

“They are getting phone calls,” she said.

Melissa Maki said in just one year, the 31 Backpacks program is growing well.

“It’s beyond what we ever expected,” she said.

Melissa Maki said it’s hoped the program can expand into South Range and Chassell for next school year, but more volunteers are needed there to sort and pack the food, which is purchased at Tadych’s Econo Foods, Louie’s Fresh Markets and the Community Action Agency food bank.

Laurel Maki said Glad Tidings Church in Hancock has been providing space to sort and pack the food with few restrictions. “We just come and go,” she said.

However, another peanut butter and jelly sandwich-making committee is needed, and another freezer to store the sandwiches is needed.

For more information about donating money or a freezer to 31 Backpacks, or to volunteer, call Laurel Maki at 482-0001 Ext. 207 or 231-1472, or email at laurelmaki@charter.net, or contact Melissa Maki at 231-0694 or email at melissamaki19@gmail.com.