GoPacks maximizes partnerships to fight food insecurity | News, Sports, Jobs



Photo by Janelle Patterson
Issac Blair, left, talks with Judge Tim Williams about the benefits of fruits and vegetables during a collaborative pool night at the Marietta Aquatic Center with GoPacks, the Ely Chapman Education Foundation, The Right Path for Washington County, and the River City Farmer’s Market.

More than 10 percent of the operating budget for a local nonprofit was reached through a targeted matching donation campaign, thanks to local support and belief in the shared mission.

“Our families tells us how much they appreciate support, but they don’t want to be in a handout program, they want to be part of the team,” said Heather Warner, executive director of GoPacks.

The nonprofit focuses on fighting food insecurity in local families by approaching its participating families with a form of a contract, a promise.

“You guys will expect things from us, and we’ll expect things from you,” Warner described of the entry into the program. “We explain our two-way giving model.”

The program operates within the Marietta City Schools’ geographic district serving both public school families and homeschool families pairing skillset building with access to fresh food and balanced nutritional aid.

But it’s not only handing out tomatoes and apples.

“Our operating budget last school year was about $89,600 and that covered 150 students with food, workshops, extra curricular activities, trauma workshops for parents, cooking classes, financial literacy classes and gardening classes,” said Warner.

And by partnering with West Virginia Central Credit Union with a promise to match dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000 in donations over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the public donors rose to the challenge and then surpassed it.

Now the nonprofit can invest a total of $10,565 into the programming, unrestricted, to meet needs as it also expands up through twelfth grade at the consolidated middle and high school this fall.

“New fiscal year, new budget, and new students we’ll get to help,” said Warner. “Even with all of the changes and moving in the school district they’ve figured out a way for us to have a room right across the hall from the renovated cafeteria where we can still have our Pack and Go Store.”

In the two remaining elementary buildings, delivery and pickup will still operate as normal.

But the investment isn’t only during the school year.

Warner explained that through the past two years’ utilization of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Leah Rake, the nonprofit has worked through capacity building and planing to maximize impact, rather than recreate the wheel.

“We reach more of the community when we work together instead of stay in our bubble of families,” explained Rake, who begins her third year with the nonprofit this August.

MUTUAL BENEFIT

A global pandemic put that two-way giving model to the test for the nonprofit and its peers, too.

“One thing that we leaned out of the pandemic was that we needed as a foundation to go out to the other childcare agencies in the area and share resources … we used to view ourselves as competitors,” said Gary Williams, a board member of the Ely Chapman Education Foundation. “But we can do things better together.”

Friday he stood between Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Tim Williams and Tom Fagan, president of the River City Farmer’s Market, during just such a stronger together demonstration.

The Right Path for Washington County, another nonprofit, coordinated with GoPacks, Ely Chapman, Wendy’s and the court, all to bring a pool evening at the aquatic center together with a free farmer’s market for the attending families.

“We are building relationships and demonstrating that with these kids. Our partner tonight is GoPacks and who knows food insecurity better than them,” said Cathy Harper, head of The Right Path. “More than anything, our impact in these kids’ lives is about the relationships you build so you want to stay here for the right reasons to see that there are jobs available, support systems available and you can contribute because when you do good, you feel good.”

And for the little ones reaching for grape tomatoes, the corn from Witten’s, the green beans from Huck’s, cherries from McConnelsville and berries from Linda Fagan: you feel good, when you eat good.

“These are the best tomatoes I’ve ever had,” said Issac Blair, 12, of Mineral Wells. “As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have fresh vegetables and fruits over any dessert.”

He loaded up his first bag with vegetables, but came back for a second round of zucchini, yellow squash and eyed the red and white potatoes at the end.

“But earlier I was picking the fruit from my sister’s bag,” he grinned, somewhat conspiratorially. “You saw the fruit went so fast. Those peaches were the first things gone.”

And the collaboration continues, Warner reported, as the school year kicks off in August.

“Including with Dr. (Nicole) Livengood at Marietta College,” she explained, noting the applied learning of past courses has helped to expand the GoPacks programming through the research conducted by the English professor’s guidance with her students.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at

[email protected]

If you go

The Right Path for Washington County will host another free mini farmer’s market in Belpre’s Civitan Park from 9 a.m. to noon on July 17.



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