• Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Backpack initiative


    PITTSBURGH - Once a week, teachers and students at North Hills Senior High come together to solve a problem in their district:  hunger.

    In at least one of the district’s elementary schools, as many as 20% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

    Teachers see things that others may not notice, and it was on lunch duty two years ago that Kathy Helfrich, a North Hills High School guidance counselor, and Holly Michael, a gifted education teacher saw something they could not ignore.

    “We were talking about noticing some kids who didn't seem to be eating, that were having some issues.  Then Kathy related a particular story about a student she had who came in on a Monday and told me he hadn't eaten all weekend," said Michael.

    The pair wanted every child to have enough food to get through the weekend, so with $500 in donations, they started the Backpack Initiative.

    This month marks the second anniversary of the program.

    Each week, high school student volunteers load donated food items into bags, and then Helfrich and Michael deliver the bags to four elementary schools where guidance counselors hand out the food.

    They serve about 160 families every week.

    Donation boxes are set up in all district buildings to collect the 1,500 items needed each week.

    “There's a need. Parents, students, teachers all chip in,” said Helfrich. 

    The program is often a recipient of food drives and other projects by student and community groups. 

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