Gateway: Living

Helping fill food backpacks opens students’ eyes to hidden needs in community

Gig Harbor High School sophomore Luke Tatum, senior Emma Madsen, and juniors Alicia Meacham and Haley Anderson load Food Backpacks 4 Kids at Key Peninsula Middle School late last month.
Gig Harbor High School sophomore Luke Tatum, senior Emma Madsen, and juniors Alicia Meacham and Haley Anderson load Food Backpacks 4 Kids at Key Peninsula Middle School late last month. Special to the Gateway

Longtime friend and originator of Food Backpacks 4 Kids in our schools, Karen Jorgenson, alerted me to the visit to Key Peninsula Middle School of volunteer Gig Harbor High School backpack loaders, seniors Jenna Gordon and Emma Madsen, sophomore Luke Tatum, and juniors Haley Anderson, Alicia Meacham and Ethan Marshman, the latter of whom is in Running Start at Tacoma Community College. They were accompanied by Heidi Allen, GHHS National Honor Society advisor.

“It looked like an ordinary day of packing backpacks at KPMS, but it was not Wednesday, the regular day for our 15 community volunteers, it was Tuesday, and eight GHHS students, members of the National Honor Society, were there for the task,” Allen said.

Its organizer, Tatum, said, “I first sought a student service project to give back to the community and get some service hours under the belts of students like me. I heard about (FB4K) when my church requested donations for it. I learned it works to make sure children in need get something to eat. The outcome I hoped for was that kids in our community would benefit from our service in the form of a good meal.”

They did indeed! At KPMS, GHHS students gathered food items listed on the whiteboard menu and placed them in backpacks. The main meal included ingredients to prepare Parmesan chicken in the crockpots that FB4K has provided its recipients. Some GHHS students took home the recipe included in each backpack, commenting on the nutritional value of the prepared menu, as well as the fact that students have the opportunity to learn to cook.

I’m dismayed that home arts courses have been eliminated from school curricula.

Marshman learned that the program has grown exponentially and reaches hundreds of families.

“Many kids in school have families who need a little extra help and this program reaches over 400 families each week. It’s amazing,” he said. “I learned there are more children in my own area who need help with food which is eye opening; their problems were unbeknownst to me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help these families and kids.”

Said Gordon, “I know there are those who worry when they fall asleep hungry. When you get rid of the fear of having no food, kids are able to thrive in school and are able to apply themselves. School is critical to a child’s future.”

The afternoon was full of amazement, information, positive vibes and making new friends for the participants.

“Whenever another group in the community wants to participate in an introductory course in packing backpacks, I will jump at the chance,” said Jorgenson, executive director of the 8-year-old program. “I so enjoyed meeting and working with these kids with a common goal.”

Summing it up, Tatum said, “I’m grateful for this experience. I met new people and had fun packing backpacks. I learned how much FB4K means to our community. Feeding 1,600 people a week is no small feat. When you think of Gig Harbor, you imagine waterfront property and (well-endowed) people. FB4K exposed me to a hidden need in our community, a lack of food for our children and their families.”

For information on how you can make a difference, contact Food Backpacks 4 Kids at 253-857-7401 or

You’ll feel special if you do!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at