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The Backpack Project

JV AmeriCorps member Josie Gomez serves at the James John Elementary SUN School. Part of her role includes boosting food security for the children and families participating in SUN School afterschool programming.  


I have never known what it was like to not have enough food to eat at home–the fridge and the cupboards were always full in my house. For some of the students I serve, not having enough to eat is a daily reality.

This is where the Backpack Project comes in. At the James John Elementary SUN School, our main component, and the piece that is most often recognized by staff and families, is our after school program, but SUN also provides other assistance to families in need. While the James John SUN School has many avenues for providing assistance, the Backpack Project is one that I have had a huge hand in during my year of service.


The Backpack Project, funded by Take Action Inc., provides a backpack full of non-perishable foods to families at the school who need extra assistance with food over the weekends, when children aren’t receiving breakfast and lunch at school. I pack the backpacks each week and they are available in the main office for pick up on Fridays. The backpacks are returned empty the following week and the process is repeated. Most families stay with the program throughout the year. But if a family experiences increased need throughout the year, they are added to the list. On the other hand, sometimes families drop out of the program because they are no longer in need of assistance; this year one parent was able to gain employment and another family’s circumstances turned around.


I have the opportunity to work with so many of the students who benefit from the Backpack Project and I know this program makes a difference in their lives. Every thank you from a family who signs up for the program or excitement from a student because this week the backpack included something they love to eat is reassurance that even though this program is not able to help every family at James John that needs assistance, it is making a measurable difference in this community.

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Zayna Abusada (Ashland, MT ’17-18, Anchorage, AK ’18-19) was most recently a JV in south-central Alaska serving with immigrant and refugee English-Language learners as the Academy for Citizenship and Civics Support Specialist with the Alaska Literacy Program (ALP) in Anchorage. Zayna first served with Indigenous students on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations. Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, Zayna went on to earn her undergraduate degree in History and Theological Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies at Saint Louis University.

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