More than a year after its inception, the nonprofit organization Backpack Society continues to grow, both in helping to feed local families and students and in expanding its facilities.
In 2020, Highlands Ranch resident June Everett knew of students and families in Douglas County who were going hungry. Early on, data showed nearly 300 students in just Highlands Ranch, and 8,000 districtwide qualified for free and reduced lunches.
Everett knew there was a need and started a pilot program with ThunderRidge High School where students could receive food in backpacks throughout the week.
Everett said that back in early 2020 the plan was to start the pilot program to see how things would go. Then, the pandemic hit, and students were sent home for online learning. That meant more students going hungry, she said.
“The need just grew overnight,” Everett said. “We knew that if a student needs help, the entire family does too. We continued what we were doing for families as often as needed throughout the pandemic.”
Starting out by offering food donations through her garage, Everett's idea of helping in Douglas County continued to grow. The Backpack Society eventually moved to a donated facility, which she said was out of the way and hard to find.
In March, the Backpack Society moved to what Everett hopes will be a forever home at 213 W. County Line Road in Littleton. The new facility allows the volunteer organization to store and donate food more consistently, Everett said.
As schools returned to in-person learning this year, Everett said she got back to working directly with local schools to make sure students were getting enough food throughout the week.
After starting with one school in 2020, the program has grown to providing students with food in 25 schools in Lone Tree, Sedalia, Highlands Ranch and Littleton.
Everett said the number of students requesting assistance fluctuates from week to week. The highest number of students receiving help in a given week has been 45.
For families, Everett said, the Backpack Society is handing out between 20 and 25 food boxes a week to families throughout Douglas County and the region.
“From the start, I knew there was a need just by looking at the numbers,” Everett said. “In reality, there are just kids who need help, and we are here to keep providing it.”
In the future, Everett said she is going to continue working to expand the program by partnering with local schools to build food pantries that will also provide snacks and food assistance to any teachers in need.
Everett said the program is completely confidential and another goal in the coming year is to get more publicity to notify those in need that help is out there.
Helping raise awareness about the important services the Backpack Society offers, a special ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled for Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. at the new location.
Backpack Society is 100% reliant on donations and grants to keep the doors open. To learn more, visit the website at backpacksociety.org.