An afterschool backpack food drive program started by a Mabton School District student is now being piloted in other Lower Valley communities.

Sunrise Outreach program, which operates food banks in 13 lower valley locations, including Sunnyside and Mabton, piloted a backpack food program in Harrah this past year, said Amber Powell, the agency’s food pantry programs manager.

Powell, who previously worked with the Mabton food bank, is working to launch an afterschool food program in the Mount Adams School District in White Swan.

A similar program is also be considered by Sunnyside United/Unidos to service the Sunnyside School District.

“It’s important to give the children some variety,” Powell emphasized, “… but most importantly, it helps them learn to cook simple things for themselves.”

MABTON — When spring break comes, 60 Mabton School District families will have extra food in their cupboards, thanks to a special bunch of student volunteers.

In the week prior to the vacation, Jennifer Harris’ high school agriculture class and FFA chapter members took time to inventory, sort and pack groceries into backpacks, which were to be distributed Friday before school let out.

The bag packers load the bags, but the Artz-Fox Elementary School counselors and school nurse determine who takes the bags home, Harris explained.

The materials for the holiday and weekend food program came from a grant received by a former student Jessica Gorman and her family, nearly six years ago.

Originally, the Gorman’s worked with Numerica Credit Union and Winco. The family has kept the programs going to make sure that at least 60 families receive a full bag of masa, sugar, and flour as part of the “Yummy Tummies” grant again this year, Harris elaborated.

Gorman, who is currently a Prosser High School senior, began the project after she learned some of her fellow students might not have much food at home over the weekends, Harris said, relating the history of the program.

Harris’ students have continued to be involved with the backpack food program for the three years she has been their instructor.

Currently, the program also receives food from the Mabton Food Bank, Sunrise Outreach, and Second and Northwest Harvest.

Those agencies provide canned foods, easily prepared foods, like cereal, oatmeal, mac and cheese, soups and other soft packaged foods.

“We pack 75 bags a week, that hold breakfast, lunch and dinner items for elementary students for use over the weekends when they cannot receive food services at school,” Harris said, noting that most of the district’s children already receive free breakfast and lunch at school.

Her students feel pretty good about helping with the programs, shouting out words like ‘responsible’, ‘amazing’ and ‘useful’, when asked how it makes them feel to help others.

It’s a short amount of time to make a big difference in someone’s life, noted Amber Powell, the new Sunrise Outreach food pantry program manager.

Powell’s children, who go to Mabton schools, often “…tell me how much the kids who get the backpacks like all the food.”

“My kids even take orders for the kids who want more mac and cheese,” she joked.

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