Brightly colored backpacks are piled against a wall in the basement of the Raymond United Methodist Church waiting to be filled with food for children in Raymond and Fremont who otherwise might go without when they’re not at school.
Sarah Gates, coordinator of the Raymond/Fremont branch of the nonprofit End 68 Hours of Hunger program, has food supplies.
What she is missing are volunteers to fill the backpacks.
Since she started the local branch in 2015, Gates said it has been tough to find people to help pack all the food each week. Although she had some help at first, mostly the job has fallen to her and her two children.
Gates moved from Raymond to Manchester a year ago, but she continues to drive back and forth to Raymond each week to pack the backpacks with donated and purchased food for the 75 children from Raymond and Fremont who receive one before each weekend — even during the summer months.
She is willing to continue running the local 68 Hours — a reference to the time children are away from school each weekend — even though she no longer lives in town, but she can’t do it alone.
“I don’t want to see it die,” Gates said.
She needs four people each week.
“Four people can get it done in about a half hour or 45 minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time,” she said. “It’s just getting multiple people together at the exact same time.”
Claire Bloom, executive director of End 68 Hours of Hunger, said it’s important for people in Fremont and Raymond to step up and support the effort.
“We’re building strong communities by feeding these children when they’re young so they can, in turn, grow up to be strong children and strong adults,” said Bloom, a Rochester resident who founded End 68 Hours of Hunger in 2011 and has expanded it to dozens of communities around New Hampshire and in other states.
In the past, Gates said, people have said they would help but wound up not being able to.
“There’s just no follow-through,” she said.
Finding volunteers during the holidays is easier because more people want to help, but things change when the season ends, she said.
“Everybody’s thinking about feeding people, but outside of November and December, it’s not something people think about and it’s hard to get help,” Gates said.
Besides the packing, Gates said she handles the finances, social media accounts and food purchases and donations.
She has a handful of people who stop by the church to pick up the filled backpacks and take them to area schools for distribution.
“That’s the only thing I have going for me right now,” Gates said.
In 2016, the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester and the Greater Manchester YMCA established similar programs in partnership with Hannaford Supermarkets, which donates nonperishable food.
The Boys & Girls Club opens its pantry on Fridays for club members who need food to last the weekend. The organization serves breakfast, snacks and dinner during the week but only has limited hours on the weekend.
“They can go in and shop for some basics just to help them get through the weekend,” said Tracey Adams, the club’s director of marketing and community relations.
In April, the club received several hundred backpacks from the nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack, which were filled by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield associates, and handed them out to members.
“If they need something to get through the weekend, we are going to give it to them,” Adams said.
Anyone interested in assisting Gates with the Raymond/Fremont program is encouraged to email her at email@example.com.