It’s a heartbreaking statistic, the number of children in the Indianapolis area who go without food when they’re not in school.
“There are over 100,000 kids in just our 21 county service area who are at risk for being hungry,” said Sarah Estell with Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. “They may leave school on a Friday afternoon after school lunch and not know when or if their next meal is coming before they have breakfast at school on Monday.”
Which is why Gleaners came up with its BackSack program.
“These BackSacks are single serving non-perishable items that the kids can open easily and prepare for themselves if there’s no one to help them in the home,” Estell said. “It’s just a way to get them some needed nutrition over the weekend, so that when they come back to school they are healthy and ready to go.”
Gleaners sends out 9,400 BackSacks every week through 245 elementary schools.
“They’re distributed on Friday afternoons. So, when the kids go to nutrition club – while they’re there, the aids put them in their own backpacks and they take them home for the weekend.”
But before that can happen, they need people to assemble the BackSacks. Last Thursday, Colts players showed up to lend a hand.
“Right now, I am stacking peanut butter to be put in the grocery bags for the meal prep. And I’m trying to make it efficient,” said linebacker Edwin Jackson. “I’m stacking two because the assembly line is moving very fast.”
As an athlete, Jackson knows how important nutrition is.
“Food is very important, it helps you get through your day. It makes your energy levels go up and it affects how you feel throughout the day. So, making sure these families have something nutritious to eat throughout the day is very important.”
Some of the skills that make Jackson a professional athlete also came in handy on the assembly line.
“Quick hands and good eye coordination,” he said.
Across from him, safety Clayton Geathers added mini boxes of cereal to the bags.
“It feels great just to be a part of this and give them a good meal over the weekend when they’re out of school,” he said.
During football season, Colts players spend their Tuesdays out in the community giving back. But they know need has no season.
“It shouldn’t be just during football season that we’re out here helping out. It should be on an everyday basis, a year round thing,” Geathers said.
Next to him, wide receiver Tevaun Smith was opening boxes – keeping the inventory stocked up and within reach.
“When you see opportunities to give back, it’s always good,” he said. “It never hurts to give an hour of your time.”
Just down the line, safety Matthias Farley was checking the bags and tying them up before handing them off to the boxers.
“There’s some ravioli, there’s some mac and cheese, there’s some granola bars, apple juice, snack packs, peanut butter, some frosted mini wheats,” he said.
It’s a small part to play in the big picture of childhood hunger. But, Farley said, that’s the idea. Giving back doesn’t have to be complicated.
“I think oftentimes, people go other places to do something to try to help little kids, but there are so many right here that are dealing with things like being hungry on the weekend. So, to come here and spend some time and pack a whole bunch of lunches for people who are really, really going to take it and value it and it’s going to make a huge difference in their weekend and probably in their week as well.”
And because he’s a competitive guy, it wasn’t enough for Farley to just pack the bags. He wanted to do it better (and faster) than anyone else.
“In a perfect world, we will have set a new standard. Why are we stopping, people?” he yelled.
Working alongside employees from Rolls Royce and Kforce, the players packed 1,296 BackSacks in an hour.
“Wow,” responded Estell when she heard the number. “That’s great! They should come back more often.”
They didn’t set a record, but they were close. Estell said the range for sacks packed is about 900 to 1,300 in an hour.
“They’re right there,” she said. “The record is within reach.”
It gives them a reason to come back. But then again, these guys don’t need a reason.
“There’s no offseason for doing things that are important,” said Farley.
It was a simple job, but a significant one. From the start of the assembly line, where Andrew Williamson and Frankie Williams opened the bags – to the end of the line, where the boxers boxed them up and stacked them – the Colts were there with busy hands and full hearts.
“It helps us raise awareness, it really boosts the spirits of the volunteers that are already back there working and the staff that work at our warehouse,” said Estell. “And it really just raises awareness. They use their celebrity for good and we very much appreciate that.”