Who I am, and how this all started...
I'm Michelle Renee Karns. The founder of Backpack Kids. I feel that anyone who spends their time, money, or efforts to help us, should know a little about the Backpack Kids... and a little about who I am. In all reality though, the community and people like you are who really are the ones that run this program ;)
I was raised and have lived most of my life in the Puyallup/Graham area. I'm a Realtor, and have also started a new career in the Millwork Industry. I have 3 daughters who attend school in the Puyallup School District. Gracie-Mae who is 13, Molly 7, and Beau 5. Even my dog is a girl ... I like to refer to us as. girl-gang ;) . We spend a lot of time working, doing BPK stuff, with friends or trying to get out of town. In my not free time I still try to cram in things I love, like: coaching basketball, being a Wrangler at the Rodeo, traveling, and getting anywhere outside that I can for no good reason at all.
How this whole thing started....
The school year of 2015/2016 it was brought to my attention by my good friend Dawn Puttler that was involved in the PTA at Ridgecrest Elementary in Puyallup, that there were children that were in desperate need of food when they were not at school to receive their daily “free lunch.” Of course the loving teachers at the school would do what they could, and help when they knew how... but there was a need. This need could not be taken on until there was a commitment to feed any and all of the children in need, for the remainder of the school year.
My friend presents the situation to me. She says she will help me if I can commit. It took me approximately 3 seconds to make that commitment. ... So where do we start? How do we start? We found out how many kids were in need, and they were divided between kids needing some help/supplemental meals they were skipping, and the kids that were homeless and needed ready to eat, instant meals. There are so many different situations. Some children living with friends, some families couch surfing, some kids left alone when parents work one or two jobs, some in poverty and simply with not enough to eat. Some, HOMELESS. Unfathomable, right? Imagine your own child living in a car, tent, or even on your friends couch asking you for food that you cannot provide. If you are anything like me, the thought makes you sick.
“Someone should do something about that.” Guess what? WE, are “somebody”.
I started collecting food, grocery gift cards, and even money for donations to get this program going. Where would I set this up? Obviously it would need to be in my house. The garage? Well, if you know me... you know that I can’t stand to be cold. I would actually probably rather have a baby. ( No I wouldn’t ) Our home office? Well, since I didn’t even ask my husband if he was ok with me starting this program, I probably shouldn’t just take over the office with canned goods? Well, we do have this “good-for-nothing” storage closet, as I called it. Turns out, the “good-for-nothing”... was meant to be.
What started as shopping trips that led to grocery bags full of food laid all over the closet ground... one day turned into a true pantry. We have a dear friend James Szcezensy that said he was coming over to put shelves, and hooks for bags into the closet for me. He spent an entire day of his time ( this was during his busiest time ever, and he was turning away business, and self employed ) and his money to build me this AMAZING pantry for the Backpack Kids. When I opened the door to this pantry, my eyes instantly got a little blurry. I felt guilty that this self employed man had taken time away from his work, and income to do this... but I also felt SO THANKFUL. You may be thinking... whats the big deal? Shelves? No. This wasn’t just shelves. This was organization. It was precise, thoughtful, workable.. and most importantly, it’s what sparked that idea that I could do this. We could do this! Not just right now, but we could really make this work. So, thank you J. I’ve spent many hours in that closet that you made a pantry. Sometimes not even to pack bags or stock food... but just to look, smile, say a quick prayer and be thankful.
Ok, enough of that, right? So how many kids are there? It varies. There could be 40, there could be 30. Realistically there could be 80, or more. I hope not for statistics sake, but... at this point I don’t see the need, lessening. What would it cost to feed 40 kids for a weekend? Wait... what would it cost to feed them over a spring break? A little panic, but not for long. There is an amazing guy named Tomm Gordon that is the head honcho at “The Edge Foursquare” . His children attend Ridgecrest, and he was the one who initially was asked if they could maybe help these kids. Last year we split the kids up by circumstances for the most part. The church took the instant type meals, and I did the kids that more less had an stove/microwave readily available to possibly heat food up. I asked my husband and I’s INCREDIBLY generous place of business for help. I call it “dialing for dollars” ... Windermere West Campus, in Federal Way. WOW. They stepped up and FED these kids. Again, humble tears. ( If you know me, you know that I really dislike crying, but was happy to take one for the team for this one ) ... then Facebook. I realized that I needed to ask for help. I did, and did I ever receive. People I have never met, people I haven't seen in years, and some that I see daily... there was such a huge range of everyone helping. Regulars. I’m writing that and giggling, because I have regulars. The ones that no matter what, always are there and always in some way help. Ones that leave food on a regular basis on my front porch. My husband showing up with boxes of food from clients, and friends. Ones that Amazon Prime it to my house. Ones that PayPal. Ones that send my daughter home from school with grocery story gift cards. Talk about humbling. In a world where there is so much bad on the news, this is where I choose to see the good in it. It’s pretty amazing what a group of people can do together. Like, feed 40 kids all year, on top of their own families. =) Donating time to pack bags. Delivering the bags. The ladies at school that make sure these kids get home with the food each week! Every part of this is just as important as the other.
Summer came and I emptied my pantry into the bags of the kids, dividing it up. The entire time feeling so guilty that I KNEW it wasn’t enough food to last them the summer. Each time I went grocery shopping for my own family that summer I would think of the Backpack Kids, and how I just wish that I could take them all food, ask if they need something, check on them. I was so excited for school to start Sept 2016. One, to get my kids out of my house. Two, we could get the Backpack Kids, food!
So as of right now we are on year 4 of this. The first part of the year has been solely on some donations, my regulars ( I love you guys ), and our own personal checking account. Good news is that I’m a pretty amazing food/sale shopper, Target gives you 5% off with a Red Card, I check for food sales CONSTANTLY, my husband supports me in all of my crazy ideas, helps me run all over picking up things, and I have the support of our community. The school even did a food drive, and all of that food went to it’s own school-families. The kids were excited to help, especially knowing it was their own. It made me SO proud. I mean it, and I always will that there is no donation too small. When you are hungry, what seems small to you can mean being able to stay awake a few more hours, listen, interact, or learn, to others.
Now that the Non Profit is “official” I plan to ask some bigger biz for donations. Believe me I still need help from my “Village”, but just so you know I’m shooting for the stars to give you guys a break ;) I haven’t asked for many donations this year because I really wanted to be able to give people a tax write off. Especially being self employed, I know that it all helps. So I needed to do my part and get that taken care of. - (2019 update : We are up to over 400 students and growing! )
This summer we will be able to set up shop at the school, or something of the sorts and keep these kids fed year round. It might be weekly, bi weekly... not sure yet. Tomm Gordon and I have met and have plans to keep the train going. Our goal is to cover the schools in Puyallup School District that aren’t currently, and maybe even one day... beyond. The need is there. We both agree that with the support of the school, and all of you... it’s totally doable. ( 2019 update - we met the families every other week with bags of food, or dropped off at the homes of the families who were not able to find transportation. HUGE SUCCESS! We also have moved into Bethel School Distrcit )
I am open to suggestions, questions ... ANYTHING you can think of that helps. I mean it when I say that this is OURS. I am endlessly indebted to you for your continued support.
XO - MichelleRenee Karns