Soup kitchen nears goal for backpack program

The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter has made up for a slow start in donations for the backpack program, nearly reaching its goal of 2,000 packs by August 10.

"We were getting a little wor­ried," said Carol Weeks, commu­nity outreach coordinator for the shelter.

At the end of July, the shelter had collected just 200 bags, 90 percent away from its goal.

After a surge in donations from community members and local businesses such as Fidelity Investments, Gilchrist Metal Fab­ricating and Liberty Utilities, the first floor of the shelter is nearly bursting with full bags, supplies and newly arrived bags waiting volunteers. to be packed by shelter

"Including the bags that we’ve filled, we’re up to 1,500. We have some empty ones too, but we’re well on our way to reach our goal," said Weeks, add­ing monetary donations are being used to purchase school supplies to pack the bags.

The backpack program has been helping students in the Greater Nashua area prepare for school for more than two decades with a new bag full of grade-appropriate supplies such as pencils, pens, art supplies, binders and flash drives.

With donations still com­ing in, shelter staff has started distributing bags to families.

"It’s broken down by (alphabetical) order. Each group has two separate days to come in from now through August 21, so no one gets overwhelmed," she said.

Before the shelter moved into the new facil­ity on Quincy Street last September, distribution took place elsewhere in the community, such as Ledge Street Elementary School. Using borrowed space, the distribution had to be done in one day instead of over a month.

"It was hard. There were eight people signing families up, people had to wait outside no matter what the weather was do­ing," said Weeks recalling the process last year. "It was exciting, but a lot of extra stress."

Weeks said for the first year in the new facility, the long-running backpack program has gone well. "I’m sure we’ll tweak it for next year. There’s always room for change," she said.

This year, only two volunteers were needed to man a table outside the backpack supply room to sign in families as they trickled in to pick up bags.

"We were so fearful of being overwhelmed. But, because it’s broken down by alphabetical order, it’s been a steady flow of folks signing in and checking out bags," said Weeks.

Sharon Daley said groups of volunteers pack the bags for families to simplify the process. "So there’s no crayons in the high school bags, and no protractors in the elemen­tary bags," said Daley.

While the bags are already packed with sup­plies, the children get to walk in and choose a bag based on their age group.

"Last week, we had two young sisters come in – they wanted ‘Frozen’ bags, but two different ones," said Weeks.

"They found two dif­ferent bags, one with Elsa and Anna and one with Olaf. They were so happy they were skipping. That’s really what it’s all about," said Weeks.

For information on how to volunteer, pick up a pack, donate to the program online or what supplies are needed, visit the website at www.nsks. org, or call 889-7770.

Those hoping to volun­teer can call the shelter number and ask for Paula, or email her at Paula@ nsks.org, and recipients with questions can speak with Juana, Juana@nsks. org.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 5946402, tforbes@nashua telegraph. com or @Telegraph_ TinaF.