First Backpacks for Good event serves more than 600 students

NILES — The line of cars in the parking lot at Niles High School Tuesday evening did not seem to end. Snaking around the parking lot, school and up the road near the Four Flags Apple Festival grounds, turnout for backpacks filled with school supplies and a food pantry exceeded what organizers anticipated.

According to Lisa Cripps-Downey, president of the Berrien Community Foundation, over 260 vehicles lined up at the foundation’s Backpacks for Good event. The event, which provided a new backpack filled with new school supplies for students in the Niles Community School district, was paired with having a Feeding America mobile food pantry on-site. The event was originally scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. The line had to be stopped just to ensure everyone who had arrived received a backpack.

“We served over 600 kids,” Cripps-Downey said.

The mobile food pantry had the capacity to serve between 150 and 200 families with a box of produce, a box of dairy and a box of baked goods. Its supplies were depleted before the school supplies were.

“It was a long event,” she said. “[The turnout] points to a need for the service. I am just glad and honored that we were able to help and be there.”

This was the first event of its kind for the Berrien Community Foundation to coordinate with the schools.

“We hadn’t done this before,” Cripps-Downey said. “We are working with the schools and trying to think about what they were thinking of for numbers. We look at this and said next year, if we are asked to do this again, we know we need to increase that to make sure we have supplies available.”

The backpacks were put together and distributed with the help of Niles High School student volunteers. The week before the event, student athletes, members of the honors societ, and friends wanting to get involved, showed up to a backpack assembling event. Spaced out with face masks on, the students ensured each backpack was filled with the appropriate supplies for each age group.

“Working with Niles schools was wonderful,” Cripps-Downey said. “They were so helpful. We had this great group of high school volunteers. They packed the backpacks with us and they were putting the food in the cars. They were sorting out the boxes. They were amazing.”

The Berrien Community Foundation’s Backpacks for Good event will be hosted from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 18 at Coloma High School for students from Coloma, Waterlivet and Hagar #6 school, and again from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, at Brandywine High School in the parking lot for Brandywine Community Schools. Students must be present with their parent or guardian, and the event will be a drive-thru to receive a backpack in the color they choose willed with school supplies. The Feeding America Mobile Food Pantry will be on-site again at these events.

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