RAYMOND — Sara Gates awoke Tuesday morning to 30 emails in her inbox.
Another 150 emails poured in throughout the day.
The messages were from people who wanted to lend a hand after Gates pleaded for volunteers to help her fill backpacks with food for 75 needy school children in Fremont and Raymond.
“I think this was amazing,” she said.
Gates serves as coordinator for the Raymond/Fremont chapter of the End 68 Hours of Hunger program, a nonprofit that relies on volunteers to fill backpacks with food to feed children during the weekends when they’re not getting a meal from their school.
The program provides food weekly throughout the year, but the local chapter has struggled to find volunteer packers to help Gates, who moved from Raymond to Manchester a year ago. She has continued to return to Raymond each week to keep the backpacks filled because she didn’t have other volunteers to take over the packing.
Raymond residents Vicky York and Doreen Dileo have now stepped up to the plate and agreed to become “head packers.”
“I thought it was going to be like pulling teeth to try to convince someone to be the head packer,” Gates said.
As word of the need spread after a Tuesday New Hampshire Union Leader story, Gates said about 40 people showed up to help her pack the bags Tuesday night at Raymond United Methodist Church. Some members of the Raymond Democrats also showed up as part of a planned event to collect food donations, raise money and help pack the bags.
Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard stopped by as well.
Gates said enough bags have been filled to handle the need this week and next week. A local basketball team has also agreed to help fill bags for the week of Christmas, she said.
York and Dileo, who have been friends for years, said they were looking forward to helping out a program that has benefited so many local children.
York is a paraprofessional who works with preschool students at Lamprey River Elementary School in Raymond. Dileo is a former paraprofessional who worked at the school until recently.
“It’s a great program. It’s amazing. I’ve seen first-hand the kids getting (the backpacks) at the elementary school. I’m fortunate that we don’t need the service, but there are so many people that do,” Dileo said.
Gates said she will continue to buy the food that goes into the bags and handle other tasks, but having York and Dileo in charge of the weekly packing will make things easier.
“I have no problem doing the bags, but I just can’t do it every week,” she said.