Fighting the good fight

HOUGHTON – Having begun just last October with 43 students at the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, the 31 Backpacks food program is now serving 88 students in five local school districts.

Melissa Maki, who along with her mother, Laurel Maki, and friend, Amy Zadawa, started 31 Backpacks, Inc., said it’s expected South Range Elementary School will join the program after the Makis met with the school board members.

“They were very receptive,” she said.

The 31 Backpacks program involves identifying children who may be going hungry over a weekend because there isn’t enough food in the house or apartment, getting parents’ permission to send food home with them, then filling the backpacks with enough food items for the weekend.

On Oct. 4, Maki said it was learned a student at one of the schools has a food allergy, so now the process for determining which students need help also involves checking for food allergies.

Besides the mostly nonperishable food items put in the backpacks, Maki said frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are put in.

“We try to do two (sandwiches) per student,” she said.

There are separate committees which make the sandwiches for the program.

The food for the program is purchased at local supermarkets using donated money.

The schools served by 31 backpacks are the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, including the district’s Horizon Alternative High School; Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools; Hancock Gordon G. Barkell Elementary School and Hancock Middle School; and Houghton Elementary School.

Maki said the 31 Backpacks program recently received a $500 from the Portage Health Canal Run. The program also raised another $445 by selling office furniture donated by the Michigan Tech Employees Federal Credit Union.

Although there are 19 local school districts in the Copper Country Intermediate School District, Maki said there are no plans to try to cover them all.

“We’re just doing Houghton and Keweenaw counties,” she said.

Although there are enough volunteers to pack and deliver the backpacks, Maki said more will be needed at Christmas time.

Rather than deliver to individual homes, there will be locations where families can pick up the food.

“If they don’t have transportation, we will make other arrangements,” she said.

To volunteer or donate to the program contact Melissa Maki at or 231-0694, or Laurel Maki at or 231-1472. Make checks payable to 31 Backpacks, Inc.

Maki said on Oct. 18, 31 Backpacks will be receiving a Volunteer of the Year award from the Upper Peninsula Volunteer Network.