Grassroots Success: Helping Hungry Children

Cambria County Backpack Project Continues to Grow

Thanks to grassroots efforts, caring volunteers, and support from CFA, the Cambria County Backpack Project has become a critical local program that has helped provide more than 420,000 meals to area children since its inception in 2013 as the Johnstown BackPack Project.

Over the past year alone, 449 children received meals to keep them from going hungry over the weekends. When the pandemic resulted in closed schools this past spring, Backpack Project volunteers and funders also helped local kids make it through weekdays without going hungry. Ultimately, the pandemic resulted in the addition of 100 more students to the program.

CFA’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, established to quickly mobilize financial resources for local nonprofits, was among the funders who helped the Backpack Project heft the load of suddenly increased demand, with grants totaling $3,000 this year.

CFA also helped the program get started and become a sustainable, growing operation with a coordinator through AmeriCorps who engages volunteers and makes sure meals make it to the right places. The Foundation regularly provides additional funding through fall and spring grantmaking, providing more than $47,000 in grant funding to the program so far. That’s in addition to administrative support the Foundation provides by managing the Cambria County Backpack Project Fund.

The program responds to a previously unanswered demand in the region, working with an increasing number of local school districts to identify and provide meals to chronically hungry children from communities across Cambria County. Referring schools and organizations include Blacklick Valley, Ferndale, Forest Hills, Greater Johnstown, Portage, Richland, Westmont Hilltop, and Windber school districts as well as Mom’s House and Morrell Pre-K, operated by Cambria County Child Development Corporation. The Learning Lamp and Community Action Partnership of Cambria County are also partners.

“The CCBP relies solely on grants and donations to serve the children that receive bags of food each weekend during the school year,” Cambria County BackPack Project Coordinator Kylee Doyle said. Volunteers from local businesses also step up on a weekly basis to help out. 

“I have seen firsthand how this project plays a vital role in the lives of these children,” Doyle said.

Food donations have been challenging this year, she added, likely because the typical “foodraisers” weren’t able to take place during lockdown this past spring. The program accepts food donations of single-serve items (no peanut butter or items with peanut butter as an ingredient) and monetary donations through CFA’s online donation platform. CLICK HERE to make a donation.

Find out more at the Cambria County BackPack Project Facebook page or CLICK HERE to explore the 2020 Annual Report online.

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