This year at Millikin there is a new organization that recently established called Big Blue Backpacks. Big Blue Backpacks is a student-run program founded by Millikin students who provide bags filled with food to the Dennis Lab School. The Dennis Lab School is a Pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in Decatur that focuses on project-based learning. Big Blue Backpacks provides 80 students with bags filled with hygiene products and meals. This organization first got started in 2015 as a service project idea. Matt Andrews, the principal of Dennis Lab School, wanted to work with Millikin’s Social Work students to create a project to help the students of the school. After discussing the idea of food bags with a team of five Millikin students and Mary Garrison, Associate Professor of Social Work, Big Blue Backpacks became more than just an idea, it became a goal and an enterprise.
It took one full year to construct Big Blue Backpacks (BBB) into the organization that is now up and running full force. Throughout the 2015 school year, Millikin seniors Tasha Wilson, Bryn Agnew, Ashley Horan and juniors Jonathan Rieck and Trista Smith worked with Matt and Mary to set up this group. This school year, the team is made up of president Jonathan Rieck, a senior Psychology and Human Services major, Treasurer Trista Smith, a senior Psychology major, Danna Herbach, a senior Art Therapy major, Katie Posch, a junior Psychology major, and Kayce Fuentes, a junior Human Services and Spanish major.
Starting out, only 80 students will receive a wellness bag, but this is not a fixed number. BBB used the number 80 only as “a starting number,” said Danna Herbach, the executive materials manager. Big Blue Backpacks does not really fill up actual backpacks. They fill up plastic grocery bags that can be found at any grocery store like Kroger and Walmart. There is a plastic bag drive coming soon to Millikin where BBB will accept donations of plastic bags from the community.
For this year on every other Wednesday at 11 am, BBB gets together with Good Samaritan Inn at the Central Illinois Foodbank. The Central Illinois Foodbank sells cans of food for 19 cents a pound and Jonathan Rieck said that BBB fills the grocery bags full with the canned good items “like an assembly line.” On every Friday morning, the bags are delivered to Dennis Lab for the students and it is unknown to BBB which students receive the bags.
Kayce Fuentes, the communications liaison, said BBB gives students a bag of food “to make sure they do not go hungry over the weekend because a high number of students at Dennis Lab qualify for discounted or free lunch, and it’s a fact that when students are hungry they are not able to focus in the classroom and get poorer grades.”
Big Blue Backpacks has many partnerships and maintains formal relationships with Millikin University, Central Illinois Food Bank, Dennis Lab School, and Tabernacle Baptist Church. They also take donations and have a CrowdRise page where donations can be made. Their facebook page is Big Blue Backpacks and they are also affiliated with the Decatur Public Schools Foundation. They have received several donations already by the Tabernacle Baptist Church and their goal is to raise $10,000 for the year. All of that money goes directly to the food and wellness bags that will help the children. They also take volunteers and if anyone wants to volunteer, contact Mary Garrison at [email protected] or call (217) 424-5074.
Big Blue Backpacks may be a new organization to Millikin, but it is already making a big difference in the lives of young children and helping them maintain a healthy life.