Last spring new leadership stepped in at Food Backpacks 4 Kids.
“After two wonderful years as executive director I realized that with my other commitments there weren’t enough hours in the day,” said former executive director Richard Miller. “FB4K was in a very strong financial and organizational position so it was a perfect time to step away.”
Zaida Woodworth and Michelle Johnson, the two paid staff, took over the administrative work. “Michelle and I did some soul-searching and talked about doing it jointly because we do work very closely in our partnership,” Woodworth said. “The lines are blurred because there are only two of us. I was promoted to director, but we really are a dual partnership.” Woodworth said. She continues to manage operations and now also administers the grants. Johnson focuses on communications and development.
“The leadership, creativity, compassion and energy that Zaida and Michelle have brought to FB4K has completely transformed this program,” said board member Tricia Endsley. “They quickly adapted to the current needs of the community during unstable times and have implemented a program that supports our families at a different level from the traditional FB4K.”
The pandemic and school closure changed how the organization served its families last year. Rather than sending students home with food in backpacks and stocking food pantries in schools, FB4K shifted to running a drive-through pick-up service, doubling the amount of food delivered and expanding the number of families served (“Backpacks for Kids Steps Up in Time of Need,” KP News, Jan. 2021).
Woodworth said the drive-through service allows FB4K to get closer to and better understand the needs of the families and to modify its services. The needs, she said, have not abated. FB4K now serves over 700 students, up from 567 a year ago.
“Most of our families are not destitute but they struggle with a shoestring budget,” she said. Federal government guidelines recognize that a family of two with an income of $69,000 or a family of four with an income of $106,000 qualify to receive food from federal programs, incomes much higher than most people expect, she said.
When school resumed, local middle and high schools reopened their on-site food pantries stocked with nonperishables for students to take home. Several elementary schools now have pantries as well.
FB4K ended its drive-through food distribution program in September and replaced it with a family food pantry in Key Center that families can visit four days a week for nonperishables. Boxes of dairy and produce, packed according to family size, are also available. FB4K distributed more than 125 Thanksgiving dinners to families in boxes decorated by high school students. FB4K will distribute Christmas dinners this month.
“We are for our community by our community,” Woodworth said. “Our support network includes Communities in Schools, Children’s Home Society, Red Barn, the civic center and the school district, including counselors and advocates at the schools.” A core crew of about six volunteers and nearly 50 others carry out the work. “We are blessed to have a group of fantastically smart dynamic volunteers to help us out,” she said.
“We have put a lot of energy into developing the families we serve as part of the volunteer work force,” Woodworth said. “That give-back rewards everyone. Our families’ voices are heard, and we have a better understanding of what families are looking for.” Johnson created a closed Facebook group for the families where they can share resources, recipe ideas and help each other out.
Woodworth grew up on the Key Peninsula and attended Evergreen Elementary. She credits her mother’s community involvement with her own commitment. When she left as a teen she vowed never to return, but, she said, once she had kids, she knew of no better place to raise a family. She worked at several nonprofits and in 2018, after leaving a very stressful job, she began volunteering at FB4K. When a position opened two years later, she didn’t hesitate. “This is where I needed to land,” she said.
Johnson, too, comes from a “service heart.” She grew up in the military and experienced some food insecurity during her early years. The military, she said, led her to understand the importance of community. She lives in Gig Harbor and worked in communications for the University Place and West Pierce fire departments. “I wanted to work within my own community. I began volunteering for FB4K and discovered (its founder) Karen Jorgensen. When a position opened in 2018, I joined the staff and Zaida came as a volunteer soon after. It was fantastic.”
Food comes largely through sources developed by FB4K. A local farm regularly donates produce, “a true gift,” Johnson said. They are always on the lookout for donors with good dairy products. Rather than request general food donations they now run food-specific drives publicized on the FB4K Facebook page.
Send donation checks to P.O. Box 173, Gig Harbor WA 98335. FB4K accepts PayPal online but pays a fee. For questions, call 253-857-7401 or email info@FoodBackpacks4Kids.org
Families living within the Peninsula School District with children 18 or under can receive food by registering with FB4K. Registration includes name, number of children and school name if relevant. Income information is requested but not required.
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