Annual Bags of Hope event feeds the needy, but could even more be done?
JANESVILLE As huge quantities of food traveled to needy families Saturday, organizers of an annual holiday food effort were thinking of making the annual event even bigger.
It’s hard to imagine what bigger would look like for the Janesville School District’s Bags of Hope event.
Foodstuffs of all kinds stretched across 30,000 square feet at a south-side warehouse Saturday. About 150 volunteers stood by ready to pack the materials into shopping bags and load it into other volunteers’ cars and trucks.
In a corner, unnoticed by most, sat Stacy Nemetz and Angela Lynch, school social workers who had worked with their colleagues to develop the list of the needy families. They were coordinating Saturday’s deliveries.
Many of the needy are homeless, others live with relatives, some are unemployed, some work but don’t qualify for FoodShare, the social workers said.
Some live in mobile home parks, some in houses that might not appear to be homes of needy people. Lynch said she looks especially for families with lots of mouths to feed.
They planned for only so much money and had to draw the line. This year, the line was $40,000.
But expectations were exceeded, and $46,400 was donated. Lynch and Nemetz are hoping to use the excess cash and use it for family emergencies.
“We have those all year long,” Nemetz said.
“Are there more people who could use it? Yes,” Lynch said emphatically.
If more money was raised next year, more families could be helped, Lynch said.
Beneficiaries this year included 350 families whose children attend Janesville public schools and 50 senior citizens, organizers said.
Excess food, much of it canned goods donated by Seneca, went to the pantries of ECHO and Salvation Army.
All the beneficiaries “are going to be very appreciative today when we’re done because they’re going to have enough food to get them through the Christmas break,” said teacher Jim Reif, who spoke to the volunteers.
The volunteers cheered in response. The school holiday is significant because students who receive free or reduced-price meals at school every day won’t be getting them during the break.
Reif also called for a moment of silence for those affected by Friday’s tragedy at a Connecticut school.
Bags of Hope grew out of the General Motors-United Auto Workers effort that started in the 1980s. When the GM plant closed, the school district took over. Now, the tradition might be spreading. Al Sheehan of the city of Janesville Public Works Department said workers there collected money for the effort, and a handful showed up to work Saturday.
Sheehan said it was a last-minute effort, and he plans for a larger role for all city employees next year.
Lynch and Nemetz would welcome the help. And if you ask them, they’ll tell you of needs they strain to fill all year long.