THE BIRTH OF BACKPACK SOCIETY
It all began in 2019 with a hunch, an inkling in the back of June Everett’s mind that something was amiss. At the time, June had two children who attended ThunderRidge High School. She learned that more than 117 students there were on the free or reduced lunch program. “That’s great that the students are getting nourishing meals at school,” thought June, “but what happens when they go home for the weekend?” That question sparked the birth of Backpack Society (BPS).
June got busy doing research about the dynamics of hunger in affluent communities, dug deeper into the exact numbers for Douglas County, and collaborated closely with school contacts on specific needs of Douglas County School District (DCSD) students. She came up with the idea to send six meals home with students in need each Friday in an inconspicuous backpack (hence the name Backpack Society) giving them three solids a day over the weekend.
June applied for tax-exempt status in September ’19. She brought Laurel Gebhard on board as vice president in January ’20. Plans went full steam ahead for a pilot program to be rolled out at ThunderRidge High School that would have supported 20 students. Then, COVID struck!
Like everything else, COVID created a major kink in the plan for BPS. It brought on scenarios that were previously unimaginable: remote learning, school building closures, and an increased need for nutritional assistance for students, their families, and DCSD staff members. June and Laurel remained in close contact with school staff to figure out the best way to get food to the people. Instead of students bringing food home in their backpacks, the delivery method turned into a full-blown, emergency food assistance program for entire families. That meant securing more donations, both nutritional and monetary, and a permanent facility from which to operate.
HOME SWEET HOME
When donations first started to roll in, BPS was operating out of June’s garage. As the number of people reaching out to BPS for help began to grow, so did the amount of food donations. It became abundantly clear that they needed a larger facility.
The owners of Hornet Outdoors graciously donated space in their warehouse on Titan Road. After 10 months, June and Laurel decided BPS needed a permanent home, which they found on County Line Road in Highlands Ranch. The new operations facility is more conveniently located and equipped to handle storage and distribution requirements. It’s also home base for dozens of volunteers who conduct food drives, raise money, distribute food and get the word out about BPS. That’s the story of how BPS began and how we got to be where we are today.
MUST! DO! MORE!
According to the most recent tally by DCSD, almost 5,000 students are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program. This number doesn’t take into account the students’ families and DCSD staff and is only a fraction of our neighbors who are experiencing hunger. As of the end of March, BPS has provided more than 45,000 meals to people right here in Douglas County through our Student Program, School Pantry Program, Family Program, and Summer Program. We anticipate this number to steadily increase as more and more people reach out to us for help.
BPS has already secured relationships with local schools, corporations, and community groups to ensure a regular stream of food donations and contributions. We are, however, continually searching for innovative ways to meet the needs of the community. With record levels of food insecurity, we are at a point now where we need more and sustained funding. Simply put, we need money. Now that we have established a good rhythm for collecting and distributing hundreds of meals a week, we’re taking the next step. That step is focusing on major fundraising. More on that coming soon.