Millikin’s Big Blue Backpacks continues to thrive in 8th year

The student-run organization provides weekend meals for 125 Decatur Public School students each week.

Big Blue Backpacks

DECATUR, Ill. – The good work that Millikin University’s Big Blue Backpacks (BBB) does is often done in the background, out of the spotlight. 

The student-run organization that addresses food insecurity for some Decatur Public School (DPS) students, provides weekend meals for 125 total students at Decatur’s Dennis Lab School, American Dreamer STEM Academy, and Michael E. Baum Elementary. While the work that BBB Co-Chairs Aly Barnes and Kendall Rossignol and BBB member Kendra Culler do isn't flashy as they order, organize, and prepare the bags of food for the DPS students, the impact is tremendous.

The group, which partners with Decatur’s Good Samaritan Inn, meets on Tuesday mornings at Good Samaritan to prepare the food bags. It's all done quickly to get to make it back to campus for class. The bags prepared on Tuesday are distributed to the kids for the weekend. 

Big Blue Backpacks

After serving Dennis Labs and American Dreamer for several years, Michael E. Baum Elementary was recently added to the BBB program. The students receiving the bags haven’t met the college students who provided them. 

“We know the students are very appreciative, but we are kind of undercover, and that is how it is supposed to be,” Aly said. “It feels good to be contacted by another school that would greatly benefit from 20-25 bags. I’m happy that we have the capacity to do that and that we can provide this for the people in need.”

Aly and Kendall, members of the Millikin Swim and Triathlon teams, typically prepare the weekly order from Decatur’s ALDI grocery store, pick it up, organize it, and prepare it for an assembly line process of preparing the bags. The BBB program, which runs during the academic year, has menus that vary slightly from week to week. The bags typically include granola bars, mac ‘n’ cheese, soup, canned pasta, fruit cups/snacks and oatmeal, among other things. 

“Around Halloween and Christmas, we will get candy and candy canes to add to the bags for something fun. Before summer break, we do a double order,” Kendall said. “Good Samaritan will also give us extra donations that they receive them. They recently gave us 300 jars of peanut butter, so we gave everyone a jar plus 20 meals for the summer. We try to do that when there will be a long break. Before Christmas break, we will add in some extra items as well.”

Big Blue Backpacks
From left to right, Big Blue Backpacks members Kendall Rossignol, Kendra Culler and Aly Barnes prepare bags of food for DPS students. 

To fund the project, the group is looking to raise $10,000 to support the program’s 8th year. Any donation received goes 100 percent to purchasing food for the students.

Ongoing donation options include several different levels of sponsorships for giving, including:

● For $80, you can sponsor a desk; this will feed one child for a school year.

● For $800, you can sponsor a lunch table; this will feed 10 children for a school year.

● For $2000, you can sponsor a classroom; this will feed 25 children for a school year.

● For $4000, you can sponsor a school bus; this will feed 50 children for a school year.

Big Blue Backpacks

Donations can be made online at the Decatur Public School Foundation website or sent to the Decatur Public Schools Foundation at:

Mr. Zach Shields 
Decatur Public Schools Foundation 
101 West Cerro Gordo 
Decatur, Illinois 62523

Please indicate “Big Blue Backpacks” in the memo line.

Questions can be directed to Marty Brilley, who is Millikin University Chaplain, Director of the Big Blue Pantry and serves as BBB Faculty Advisor at

With increased funding, the group has many ideas for expanding, including continuing to add to other DPS schools, the ability to possibly include more fresh produce and perishable items and developing a system where students can pick out what they would like in their bags. 


Aly, a junior Elementary Education major, and Kendall, a junior Psychology major, are also looking to add more Millikin students to the group’s membership roster. 

“Our first goal would be to expand to more schools in the area and I wish we could make bigger changes to the menu options,” Kendall said. “We want to reach out to Education and Psychology professors to see if they have any students who would be interested. For those students who plan on going into service professions, it would be a good fit for them.”