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  • By Dan Aznoff.

Food Backpacks 4 Kids

Food Backpacks 4 Kids

Priorities are something that Hannah Lazicki deals with every day. There are days she must decide between spending precious time with her kids and taking one of them to see another medical specialist. However, the single mother of four children is thrilled she is no longer forced to choose between food on the table and medicine to care for her three children with disabilities.

Lazicki and her kids are one of the 425 families who receive Crock-Pot recipe ingredients once every week as part of the Food Backpacks 4 Kids program. The Backpack initiative is one of two programs funded through Community Harvest sponsored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation.

Lazicki said the backpack her kids bring home from school every week is filled with enough non-perishable food to help her make meals she would not have the time or the money to afford on her own. The best part, she said, is the canned meat she uses to help supplement dinners that are lacking protein.

The slow-cooker recipes, said Lazicki, not only feed her family, but give her the time to focus on the special needs of her children.

“For us, the extra food is especially helpful when we run out of food stamps,” said Lazicki. “The donated meals allow me to spend my cash on toiletries and other essentials—like rent.”

Lazicki and her children survive month to month on the disability payments she receives from the state. “Things are always a little tight around here,” she said with a sigh.

“The donated meals give me the flexibility to spend money on the IVs and wheelchairs my children desperately need.”

The mother of four is also proud that she can “pay it forward” by sending extra oatmeal and cereals to families in her neighborhood who are not part of the program. Lazicki said the children she helps do not have access to the program at Artondale Elementary School in Gig Harbor because they are either home schooled or do not attend public school.

Slow Cookin’

The Crockpot Recipe program was established last year after the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s fourth annual Make a Difference Day when volunteers with the Thanksgiving Brigade boxed hundreds of holiday meals. Executive Director Julie Gustanski said members wanted to find a way to provide nutritious meals for children from low-income households more than just once a year.

“Hunger is not just a Third-World problem,” said Gustanski. “We face hunger right here in our own community. More than 60 percent of the children at some of the local schools are on reduced or free lunch programs. We wanted to find a way to feed those kids—and those families—all year long.”

The director said one in four children and one in every seven adults in the two-peninsula area do not have the financial resources to have at least one healthy meal every week. Gustanski said Community Harvest has identified 2,300 young people in the region who are eligible to receive the weekly bounty.

The goal, according to Gustanski, is to deliver meals to all 425 families identified by the foundation for the 29 weeks between Make a Difference Day and the end of the school year. That is more than 12,000 meals. “We wanted to do more than just give each family a basket of groceries.”

Food Backpacks 4 Kids was funded in its first year through a recipe contest that raised almost half of the money needed to feed all of the families. Some of the donations came from grocery stores in the form of non-perishable ingredients, while cash and food items were collected through food drives staged by churches and scout groups.

The guidelines for the Crockpot Recipe Contest required that the meal to feed five must be contained within one child’s backpack. The top 29 recipes last year were selected from 46 entries. The Top 12 were prepared at an event sponsored by the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce with professional chefs and caterers serving as the judging panel. Cookbooks with the carefully chosen recipes were sold by the foundation for $12 each as part of the first-year effort.

Gustanski is hoping to be even more creative this year. At an estimated $12 per meal, the foundation director is hoping to solicit cash contributions to cover the cost of the food items in the backpacks. She estimated that $5,000 would be enough to cover the cost for one week’s worth of meals. Contributions to Food Backpacks 4 Kids or any of the other civic-oriented activities sponsored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation can be made online at

Individuals or businesses who want to learn more about providing one or more meals to families in need can contact the Foundation at 253.514.6338.

The ultimate goal for the Food Backpack 4 Kids program this year, said Gustanski, would be to have individuals or families donate the ingredients for the 12,000 meals. She said individuals or businesses who want to be part of the solution can shop for the ingredients or “just write a check, and we’ll be happy to do the shopping.”

Gustanski predicted the solution will be a combination of donated food items and cash contributions. Hannah Lazicki had a better idea: “Some generous individual could just write a check for $200,000 to help feed all of the hungry children in our community.”

Dan Aznoff is a freelance writer in Mukilteo, Washington. He focuses his energy on preserving cherished family memories for future generations. He can be contacted at

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