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Jul 3, 2012 5:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Student Plans To Battle Hunger With Backpacks

Jul 10, 2012 3:15 PM

Many Westhampton Beach Elementary School students receiving free or reduced lunches often have to wonder where their next meal is coming from once the school week ends. Sixteen-year-old Aiden Kravitz plans to spend his summer working on a plan that, if successful, will give those students one less thing to worry about come Friday afternoons during the school year.

With the help of his parents, Joanne and David, and his younger brother, Alex, 14, Aiden is busy raising money for “Blessings in a Backpack,” a nonprofit based in Louisville, Kentucky, that is dedicated to ending childhood hunger.

According to Aiden, the program provides elementary school children who qualify for the federal program with a backpack every Friday afternoon that is filled with enough food to last the student throughout the weekend. According to Nikki Grizzle, the director of marketing and public relations for Blessings in a Backpack, the organization currently feeds approximately 59,000 children, but she pointed out that in New York State only five schools currently participate in the program. Aiden is the first to bring the program to Long Island, she said.

The Remsenburg native, who will be a junior at Westhampton Beach High School in September, recently began an email campaign, reaching out to family and friends, with the goal of raising $10,000 before the start of the school year to fund a Blessings in a Backpack program at the Westhampton Beach Elementary School. So far, he has received $1,900 in donations, but says he has a long way to go.

“I was looking for a community service program to start,” Aiden said, explaining why he decided to help elementary school students. “I was interested in doing something for the community, because there are always so many programs working on helping international poverty that I wasn’t aware how much poverty there is on our own community.”

According to Westhampton Beach Elementary School Principal Lisa Slover, as of February, 116 of her 413 students qualified for the federal free or reduced lunch program. The number of students eligible in the next school year will not be known until September.

Ms. Grizzle said the nonprofit essentially provides a starter kit for individuals who want to launch the program at a local school. “They identify what school they want to adopt, but then they are responsible for the fundraising and the relationships with local stores,” she said. “Once it is set up, it is essentially turned over to them.”

As program coordinator, Aiden will be responsible for raising and collecting donations and mailing the money to the nonprofit’s headquarters in Kentucky, Ms. Grizzle said. Once the donations are processed, a gift card is sent back so food can be purchased locally to fill the backpacks. Each week, the group suggests eight foods that should be included in the backpacks, and as long as those are included, extra snacks can be added at the coordinator’s discretion.

Her son’s goal, Ms. Kravitz said, is to fill the backpacks with healthy foods, like granola bars and oatmeal, which are suggested by the nonprofit. If they reach their fundraising goal, the family plans to buy food, like macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli and various soups in bulk, to ensure that the $10,000 lasts for the 38 weeks of the school year.

Ms. Kravitz said she is confident that they’ll be able to help all the families that qualify for the federal lunch program at the Westhampton Beach Elementary School and enroll in the Blessings in a Backpack program. Families must sign up during the first two weeks of school in September, and the family hopes to be able to distribute the first round of backpacks in October.

“These children need to be fed,” Ms. Kravitz said. “They are coming into school hungry on Mondays and it is really important that they not be hungry anymore.”

Recently, the family agreed to participate in the program for the next three years and, to that end, will have to raise at least $10,000 for each year the program operates.

Now that the school year is over, Aiden is focusing his attention on ways to raise cash. In addition to the e-mail campaign, he has taken his cause to the social networking site Facebook and said he has been pleasantly surprised at the response he has received from classmates.

“They are all willing to help,” he said. “I have a lot of people who I didn’t know were going to be interested in the project approach me online and say that they want to get involved.”

Last month, the family started a lottery in which participants can donate money to the cause and, every week, a new winner will receive a $25 cash prize. It costs $5 to enter the weekly lottery.

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Wow! Beautiful!
By Sam (252), Westhampton Beach on Jul 4, 12 7:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
What a great story. Thanks for reporting on this.
By Jace (1), Water Mill on Jul 4, 12 11:42 AM
Awesome! I'm in.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Jul 4, 12 11:57 AM
Vey cool!!!
By david123 (1), remsenburg on Jul 4, 12 12:14 PM
from the cradle to the grave, another program that is probably also federally funded along with donations; when will people become self sufficient? This is probably a large number of illegal immingrants being fed, not true Americans that are going hungry. The old saying if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime...let's teach them to fish.
By outofhere (3), Hampton Bays on Jul 4, 12 9:57 PM
Webmaster, please unlock this article so we can all learn online how we can give generously. So much (needed) attention is given to seniors for weekend care packages, it is delightful to learn people understand kids need bridge food too. When I was little, kids would go to school in torn shirts or patched pants, but absolutely refused to go if they had no shoes. My aunt donated a pair of shoes to every child in the district to fix this (the reality was only those that needed them took them, but ...more
By Speonk Shores (31), Remsenburg on Jul 6, 12 10:30 AM
The article has been unlocked.
By Bill Sutton, Managing Editor (117), Westhampton Beach on Jul 6, 12 10:42 AM
You're a peach. $80 on its way.
By Speonk Shores (31), Remsenburg on Jul 6, 12 12:25 PM
Aiden, you are a wonderful young man. Please continue to care about other human beings like this, regardless of who they are. Bravo.
By Shinnecock Hills family (59), Southampton on Jul 11, 12 8:32 PM
Why only elementary school students?! What about the middle & high schools???
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Jul 16, 12 10:50 AM