Backpack Pantry needs islanders’ help to keep kids fed

As you might imagine, our costs have increased significantly in recent years.

The Backpack Pantry group is an all-volunteer organization dependent on the generosity of people who believe, as we do, that no child on Vashon-Maury Island should be hungry.

Backpack Pantry, since 2016, has worked through the school district to provide meals on the weekends to low-income families on Vashon.

I had heard about an organization like ours and found one did not exist here. After looking up some statistics, I found that, at that time, 22% of the children in our school district qualified for the free or reduced lunch program. The need for our help remains consistent.

Our program collects and then distributes food to students in need at Chautauqua Elementary School and McMurray Middle School.

Presently, we have about 20 volunteers, and once a month, we meet to pack bags of needed weekend meals.

We get our name, Backpack Pantry, from the mode of distribution: placement in the kids’ backpacks while the students are out of the classroom to avoid any discomfort or stigma that could be associated with receiving help.

This month, we will pack 208 bags (52 per week) of nonperishable food to be distributed to children who have signed up for our program through Chautauqua Elementary and McMurray Middle School.

Two breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks are provided in a bag for the child to take home each weekend — when school meals are not available. Occasionally, as funds permit, we include a gift card to allow for the purchase of perishable foods we cannot otherwise provide.

In addition to this, we also provide food to families served by the district’s Student Link and Family Link programs.

Because we work through the schools, only school personnel, with a reason to know, are aware of who receives our help. We don’t know who the children are and they do not know us. We like it that way.

As you might imagine, our costs have increased significantly in recent years. Our current budget fluctuates between $2,000 and $3,000 per month. From the beginning of this school year until the end of December, our total expenditure was $8,737.

This included a gift card for food over winter break only.

We are a small organization that exists only because of the generosity of our donors. Vashon Market IGA, Windermere and several individuals have been a significant help to us from the beginning of our journey eight years ago.

On behalf of the children, our heartfelt thanks go to all who have helped us, year after year, weekend after weekend, to make sure the children we serve are well fed.

Now, we’re asking more broadly for help.

When we began, rather than spend time and expense creating our own non-profit organization, we asked two local organizations if we could operate under their umbrellas, but they were unable to allow us to do that.

We then asked St. John Vianney Church if we could work with them — and were welcomed. The church generously provides us with space and infrastructure so we can operate.

When someone donates to Backpack Pantry the check is made out to St. John Vianney and in the memo line is earmarked for Backpack Pantry. That makes this a designated donation that cannot be used for any other purpose. It also gives us a good tracking of donations and expenses. Donations can also be made online.

It is our promise to our donors that we are, and always will be, good stewards of the funds donated to feed the children on our island.

Thank you for helping us have an opportunity to do that. You can set up a recurring monthly donation or a one-time donation to the Backpack Pantry at, or mail to St. John Vianney, PO Box 308, Vashon, WA 98070, writing “Backpack Pantry” in the memo line.

Nancy Radford is a longtime islander who worked for 13 years in the Vashon schools, before becoming director of a Bremerton-based nonprofit that trained and found employment for developmentally disabled students.