As I’m out running around and shopping for the big Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, I’m reminded, in the midst of all this hustle and bustle, that this is a holiday of sharing, and that there will be many this Thanksgiving without much or any food on their table. Saratoga Springs may be known for its luxuries, but it’s also become well known for its giving. One organization that’s been helping kids stay fed not just on Thanksgiving but year round is SNACpack (Saratoga Nutrition Assistance for Children).
Every week, around 20 volunteers from SNACpack meet at St. Clements Parish in Saratoga where they pack around 1000 pounds of food into the backpacks of more than 150 students throughout the Saratoga Springs City School District. Each backpack requires about $13 to fill, and it’s all provided free of charge to children, K-12, who are recommended to the program by teachers in the school district. SNACpack provides them with fresh fruit, canned vegetables, juice boxes and snacks; three entrées (mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and SpaghettiOs); bread and breakfast items as well as, when available, a milk card good for a gallon of milk. The bags are then picked up by teachers and personnel from each of the eight schools in the district (six elementary, one middle and one high school) where they are then given to the students on Friday afternoon (or, if there’s a holiday, the final day of the school week).
Most food assistance programs require recipients to physically visit pantries and kitchens in order to pick up their food; for many families without a car or access to public transit, receiving this kind of food assistance simply isn’t feasible. SNACpack is unique in that it makes a point to hand its food out not to the parents, but instead directly to the children while they’re at school. “The interaction with these children on Friday is much more than just handing over a bag,” says Karey Hall Trimmings, Co-founder and Coordinator of SNACpack, as well as a teacher at Dorothy Nolan Elementary. “It’s a time to touch base and see how the kids are doing, check in and see if other services are needed: toiletries, a winter coat, mittens, boots.”
Trimmings found inspiration for the nonprofit in a student named Richard from the Saratoga Springs school system. Richard was 14 at the time Trimmings met him, and he was struggling through middle school with what teachers thought was a learning disability. Really, Richard was suffering from chronic hunger. “Living with food insecurity is a very different thing than going to the cabinet and saying there’s nothing to eat when really there is, or you can go out and buy more,” says Trimmings. “I grew up in Saratoga, and I never knew there were so many kids here who needed help with this.” When Trimmings discovered that Richard was homeless, she and her husband, John, took him in, got him on a regular diet and soon became his legal guardians. The idea to actually stuff children’s bags with food started with Kristin Passaretti, a 5th grade teacher at Lake Avenue Elementary who’d had Richard as a student. “Kristin was very aware that something was going on, but didn’t quite know what,” Trimmings says. “So she started putting food in [Richard’s] backpack. And when I found this out, I thought, ‘So there’s one hungry kid in Saratoga, I wonder if there’s more.'”
So in January 2015, Karey and John Trimmings, who serves as the nonprofit’s Treasurer, started SNACpack to help out other kids in need like Richard. Since then, more than four years in, the program has, on average, delivered food to around 150 students (currently, 178) almost every week out of the year. During the summer, the program actually makes home deliveries to all of the students in need. There are only four weeks out of the whole year that SNACpack doesn’t provide food to children: two weeks for Christmas break and then the first and last week of the summer. On top of this, the nonprofit receives zero funding from the Saratoga Springs School District. “We’re literally a mom and pop charity,” Karey Trimmings says. “We serve the kids in the school district.”
SNACpack has had a major influence on not only the students in the district, but also the district itself. When the program launched in 2015, Saratoga Springs School District had only one social worker for every 6000-plus students. Now, largely thanks to SNACpack’s food assistance program, there are social workers in every school building. SNACpack has had such a positive impact on these children’s lives that it recently teamed up with Saratoga County Children’s Committee (SCCC) and The Chocolate Spoon to provide birthday cakes and presents for students’ birthdays as well. Trimmings says she added this service to the program because growing up Richard rarely had his birthday celebrated. “I’m a mom, and that’s just something that’s beyond my comprehension,” she says. “I guess because of having this personal connection with one of these kids of poverty, I’ve tried so hard to make sure we’re really respecting of their dignity and privacy.”
As for how Richard is doing now, he graduated from high school in May 2017, and is currently living and working in Saratoga. It’s not been an easy road for Richard, but he’s made it this far, in large part, thanks to the support and food security that SNACpack provided him.
SNACpack is a life-saver for many students in need—but by no means is it a cheap one for the nonprofit to run: The program costs about $3200 a month. So this Thanksgiving, yes, I’ll be thankful, but I won’t forget to be giving as well. SNACpack takes both monetary and food donations; a few canned or nonperishable goods may not seem like much, but to those in need it makes all the difference.