September 10, 2018 at 1:15pm
Dane Lisser

Millikin student-run organization begins another year of providing nourishment

Millikin University student-run organization Big Blue Backpacks is continuing its impact on the local Decatur community by beginning another year of providing nourishment and wellness for students in need at Dennis Lab School. The organization officially kicked off its third year of providing bags of food for students during a press conference held at Dennis Lab School on Sept. 7.

With the support of private donors in the community as well as local agencies, Big Blue Backpacks purchases food items and packs them into food bags to give to students for over-the-weekend nourishment. Big Blue Backpacks currently serves 80 students at Dennis Lab School with these meals. The organization provides breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to children in hope to ease hunger and related academic deficits.  

Big Blue Backpacks

"We continue to be honored by our partnerships with Dennis Lab School and the Good Samaritan Inn and would not be here today without their support as well as the support from the Decatur Public School Foundation, Crossing Healthcare and the Central Illinois Food Bank," said Professor Mary Garrison, Big Blue Backpacks faculty advisor and associate professor of social work at Millikin.  

Big Blue Backpacks was created and launched in September 2016 with the goal of providing seven weekend meals for 80 Dennis Lab School students each weekend during the academic year. Since 2016, the program has benefited the children at Dennis in many ways including their attendance rates, health, academic success and confidence in self.

Over the last two years the organization has provided over 43,000 food items for the students.

Big Blue Backpacks

"It is evident that because of the resources that we provide, we are able to promote academic and personal development within the lives of the students that we serve," said Millikin student Jessica Joyner, a senior human services major from Decatur and chair of Big Blue Backpacks.

Each bag that Big Blue Backpacks provides contains 10 food items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Examples of common items found in the bags include granola bars, oatmeal, breakfast bars, noodles, soups, canned vegetables, pasta, macaroni, gummy bears, fruit snacks, pudding cups and fruit cups.

"Big Blue Backpacks is a program for the community, funded by the community," said Millikin student Blake Carmichael, a senior human services major from Taylorville, Ill., and materials and food manager for Big Blue Backpacks. "We are dependent on community support to keep this program going. Without the immense support we have received so far from community entities we would not have gotten this far and be able to say we have had a successful year."

This year, Big Blue Backpacks is currently seeking financial donations to raise $9,500 to supply enough food for 80 students over the academic year.

Big Blue Backpacks

Big Blue Backpacks' 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

"We are looking forward to kicking off our third year of Big Blue Backpacks," said Professor Garrison. "Most importantly, we believe in the positive impact this has on the students at Dennis Lab School. I want to thank my students who started with an idea and made this a reality, working tirelessly to make this happen. This is what Millikin does best, Performance Learning, and I am honored to be able to be a part of seeing their success."

Additional Millikin students involved with Big Blue Backpacks include Madison Burress, a senior psychology major from Marseilles, Ill., and treasurer of Big Blue Backpacks, and Emily Bauwens, a senior human services major from Naperville, Ill., and secretary of Big Blue Backpacks.