While many children asked Santa Claus for toys, clothes, bicycles and gadgets this year, Olympia resident Addison Olson asked for something different: food.
The food wasn’t for her — the 9-year-old said her family has plenty. She wanted to contribute her gift to Homeless Backpacks, a local organization that provides weekend meals to homeless students in Thurston County by sending home backpacks filled with food.
Students served by the program receive free meals at school during the week.
On Wednesday, Addison, her mother, Jennifer Olson, and her 5-year-old sister, Avery Olson, visited the Homeless Backpacks headquarters in Lacey to drop off five bags of food that ranged from Top Ramen and peaches to tuna and chili, Addison said.
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“I know how grateful I am for food,” Addison said. “I wanted to help other kids.”
Homeless Backpacks founder Kelly Wilson said the organization depends on donations of money, time and food from the community. Local businesses, churches and clubs are instrumental in keeping Homeless Backpacks running.
Food donations are especially valuable because the organization doesn’t have to spend time or money purchasing food, she said.
The program started by serving just five Tumwater students, but has expanded to help 449 students each week countywide, Wilson said.
It is serving 53 more students now than it did at this time last year. With bags of food costing about $8 each, that’s an extra cost of more than $400 a week.
“The school counselors have been building good relationships with homeless students, so we’re able to reach more and more people,” Wilson said.
The Olson family heard about Homeless Backpacks last year through Studio West Dance Academy. Addison saw signs promoting the organization at a Studio West event, and she asked her mother what they meant.
After Jennifer Olson explained the Homeless Backpacks program to her daughter, Addison decided to spend $25 of her allowance on food.
This year, at Christmas, she remembered the organization again. A couple of family friends checked the item off of her Christmas list, giving Addison some food and a Safeway gift card to purchase more items for Homeless Backpacks.
Jennifer Olson said she’s proud of her daughter’s initiative, and said the family plans to continue working with Homeless Backpacks.
“We’re very fortunate in what we have,” Olson said. “And it’s nice to be able to share that.”
Want to help?
Homeless Backpacks asks for donations of single servings of the following items: tuna, ravioli, chili, juice boxes, crunchy granola bars, Top Ramen, microwave popcorn, instant oatmeal, fruit cups, applesauce cups, boxed macaroni and cheese, and individual snacks, such as crackers and cookies. The program also asks for sandwich-sized plastic bags.
People also can help by donating money or gift cards, organizing food drives, participating in food-packing parties, volunteering to make deliveries, picking up donations and joining the organization’s cleaning crew.
To learn more about Homeless Backpacks or to donate online, visit www.homelessbackpacks.org. Or call 360-628-8631.