Ginger Rembold gives her volunteers the rundown: They will fill 185 bags this week to provide extra food to students in Baker City.
The group of 17 gets to work in a well-orchestrated routine. They line up, take a plastic sack, then fill it with one item from each of the boxes except oatmeal (three packets) and fruit (one apple, one orange).
Once filled, the bags are tied shut and handed to Rembold, who packs them into blue plastic tubs.
“We can pack 185 bags in about 12 minutes,” she said.
Every week this group gathers in the basement of First Presbyterian Church to continue the Backpack Program, which started about eight years ago. Although housed at the church, it is a community program.
“It takes a lot of people in the whole community to make it go,” said coordinator Annie McClaughry.
Teachers and schools recommend children to receive a bag of food on Thursdays, which is intended to supplement their nutrition for the weekend. To participate, teachers send home a permission slip.
Numbers can fluctuate from week to week. The plastic tubs are labeled with a destination (such as a teacher’s classroom, or Head Start) and the number of needed bags.
Each week, McClaughry contacts schools for the current number.
“Each school has someone in charge to let me know by Tuesday,” McClaughry said.
Food goes to students at Brooklyn Primary, South Baker Intermediate, Haines School, Head Start, Baker Middle School and Baker High School.
Once bags are filled, the volunteers divide for delivery, which is always on Thursday, even if a week includes a Friday school day
“So we don’t have to adjust this group’s schedule,” volunteer Rick Rembold said.
The selection of food changes each week. For instance, a jar of peanut butter is distributed once per month. Other items on the rotation include oatmeal, granola bars, Top Ramen, applesauce, raisins, cheese sticks, soups and more.
McClaughry said the weekly menus include several main courses, snacks, dessert and fresh fruit.
The program is supported by grants and donations. Anyone wishing to support the program can write a check to First Presbyterian Church with “Backpack Program” in the memo line.
Fresh fruit is purchased through the Baker Food Co-op. An account for the program is set up at the co-op and donations can be made to directly help purchase fruit. The program receives the member discount at the co-op.
The Backpack Program recently received a multi-year year commitment of $2,000 per year from Venkat Subramanian.
Subramanian is a joint venture business partner with Chaves Consulting, a firm in Baker City owned by Richard and Kathleen Chaves.
The Chaveses met Subramanian through a contact at the Secretary of State’s office. He wanted to start his own business, and Richard offered to help.
“Richard said ‘we will work with you and help you learn what you need to learn,’ ” Kathleen said.
Subramanian designed the Chaves Consulting data center and is 50 percent owner.
“He’s like family to us,” Kathleen said.
The Chaveses connected Subramanian with resources in Baker City, and soon he had a loan through Banner Bank and insurance with Kevin and Terri Bell.
“Venkat does all his support stuff through Baker,” Kathleen said.
Although he lives in Camas, Washington, he supports community ventures that are close to the Chaveses’ hearts.
“Venkat considers Baker City his company’s community,” Kathleen said.
Subramanian has supported the Backpack Program in the past, and his recent donation is in the name of his father, Subramanian Valliappan, who recently passed away.