Did you know that there are many students in the Sweet Home District who are unable to get the food they need for the weekend? If you answered yes, you must have heard about the new initiative from the Sweet Home Education Foundation called the Weekend Backpack Food Program. Since September, SHEF has been giving food to students in hopes that their lives are a little bit easier during this global pandemic. Sweet Home Education Foundation has been running for two years with the guidance of Mrs. LaBrake. Mrs. LaBrake has been an English teacher at Sweet Home for 30 years and is President of SHEF. I sat down with her and asked her some questions in hopes that I could learn a little bit more about SHEF and all that it has done for our staff and students. 

  1. Can you explain what food insecurity is and how prevalent it is in our community? 

Food insecurity is when one does not have access to adequate food to sustain themselves. It has always been an issue in our district, but since the pandemic began food insecurity has become one of the top needs in our area.

  1. When did you start the Weekend Backpack Food Program and why? 

The Weekend Backpack Food Program started in the summer of 2020 due to nurses, teachers, counselors, and administrators asking the foundation to help families with food on the weekends. During the beginning of the pandemic, the state was giving money to the school districts to feed students for the entire week. But as the pandemic continued, that funding is no longer available and the weekends still prove to be a time period where students don’t have enough food. SHEF currently serves 42 district families and almost 100 students.

  1. Do you allow donations from students and staff during the day?

SHEF takes donations (money and/or non-perishable food items) any day Monday-Friday. The district foyer has two blue bins marked for the Backpack Food Program where people can leave food items. Anyone can also go to the foundation’s website to donate online and if someone would like to give cash there are envelopes in each building for the collection of donations.

  1. How can students and staff help contribute to the Weekend Backpack Food Program? 

One way is to donate when SHEF has food drives or fundraisers supporting the backpack program. Another way would be to volunteer to work in the food pantry located inside the high school. Students can sign up to volunteer for a free period with a staff member. A link for the volunteer sign up sheet is outside of room 118 and can be found here.

  1. How long has SHEF been around and what are some of the other programs SHEF has created? 

SHEF was created in the fall of 2019. It is a non-profit organization that serves all Sweet Home students and their families. The mission is to promote and supplement programs for all Sweet Home students. Their programs include: Sponsor a Musician, where SHEF gives students the gift of enhancing their education through instrumental music; a Teacher Mini-Grant Program where grants are given to teachers to support their creative ideas in the classroom; and a COVID-19 Relief Program, where SHEF provides support for families who need assistance because of COVID related issues.

  1. What do you want for the future of the Weekend Backpack Food Program? What do you want for the future of SHEF? 

SHEF wants to be able to support the increasing needs of the students and their families through partnerships with other organizations and to continue their partnerships with FeedMore WNY, the Family Support Center, the Sweet Home School District and Blue Cross Blue Shield. One program they are considering is a professional clothes closet for teens. Which would provide new or gently used clothing that our High School students entering the job market could use in the workplace. They would also like to reestablish their Prom Dress Giveback Program with the senior class council so that those students who wanted to obtain a prom dress and accessories would be able to do so. They are  also interested in expanding their mini grant program. 

  1. Who are some of the people to connect with questions about SHEF and the Weekend Backpack Program? 

If you want to know more you can talk to Mrs. LaBrake in room 105, Mrs. Van Harrison in room 103, Mrs. Lindemann in room 701, Mrs. Stephan in room 102, Mrs. LaChiusa in room 106, and Mrs. Schultz in room 108. 

  1. How can students reach you if they have questions about referring to a family? 

Students should go to either the nurses or a counselor to discuss a particular situation. 

SHEF is having Food Drive on Saturday March 13 from 9am to 12pm in the North Lot. They will accept all non-perishable food items and it is a contactless drop off event. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email Mrs. LaBrake at llabrake@sweethomeschools.org.

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