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After-School Dinner Special

Volunteers work to eradicate weekend hunger among Westerville students

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For some disadvantaged children, the end of the school day on Friday means the end of regular meals until Monday.

But when Westerville students in need walk out the doors at the end of the week, they don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner thanks to volunteers at Otterbein University.

Share-Bac-A-Pac is a program, spearheaded by university students, aimed at eliminating hunger in the community.

“We want to eradicate this problem altogether,” says Melissa Gilbert, Otterbein director of community engagement.

Volunteers put together bags containing full meals and load them into students’ backpacks each Friday before the end of the day. This helps students avoid any stigma; they look just like any other student bringing a backpack home at the end of the day.

“It takes a lot time and energy to put this all together,” says Erin Ramey, an Otterbein sophomore and student director of the program. “All the food is nutritious and we keep health in mind the whole time.”

Since its beginning in spring 2011, the program has grown to produce more than 2,250 bags of food in a school year.

But the success is bittersweet.

“It’s hard to tell if this is a positive or a negative,” says Patti Wilson, Otterbein professor of health and sport sciences and faculty liaison for Share-Bac-A-Pac. “It’s exciting that we can help, but it’s sad that we have to. It’s a true struggle and we’re making a full commitment to help these children.”

Volunteers continue to serve while more students join each semester.

“The students realize they are a part of something bigger than them,” Gilbert says. “They see how one person can recognize a problem, tackle that issue and turn it into something amazing.”

Share-Bac-A-Pac was founded by Otterbein alumna and Westerville resident Sherry Williamson in 2011 after the tsunamis touched down in Japan.

“I was so frustrated with world at the time,” Williamson says. “The service situation was horrible, but they were doing something called ‘Back-the-Pack’ down south and I wanted to do something similar. I looked at my daughter, Brandy, and said, ‘We can do this.’”

Since then, Williamson has continued in light partnership with the university while pushing for nonprofit financial status for Share-Bac-A-Pac. The program is working to obtain its federal 501(c)3 nonprofit title.

These efforts have created an opportunity for students to lead service initiatives.

“It’s an honor to be a leader here,” Williamson says. “When we go into schools and talk to the kids, they get so excited and they want to help as well.

“We can always use more help,” Ramey says with a laugh.

“I’ve written a few grants for Share-Bac-A-Pac, which totaled more than $1,000,” Wilson says. “Everything else comes from monetary and food donations. It costs about $6 per student for a weekend, and we have more than 60 students a week.”

The program is one of many voluntary service-oriented endeavors at Otterbein, which strongly encourages student-led community programs.

“Currently, we have 16 projects and have logged 70,000 hours of service in a year,” Gilbert says.

All students at the university and community members are urged to participate, and donations are always welcome.

Share-Bac-A-Pac is another step in the right direction when it comes to creating a more wholesome and secure world, Gilbert says.

“One backpack won’t save the world, but it provides hope for the community and provides a model for security,” she says.

Those interested in donating or volunteering should contact Patti Wilson at

Stephan Reed is a contributing editor. Feedback welcome at


Suggested Donations:

  • 8 oz. shelf-stable powdered milk
  • Motts no-sugar-added applesauce
  • Raisins
  • Quaker chewy granola bars
  • Hanover Beans and Franks, single serve
  • Apple & Eve Fruitables
  • Del Monte no-sugar-added fruit
  • Chef Boyardee microwave meals
  • Kroger microwave meals
  • Small microwave popcorn
  • Cheese or peanut butter crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Low-sugar cereals
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Canned soups
  • Trail mix
  • Macaroni and cheese; box or bowls
  • Peanut butter
  • Pudding
  • Cheez-It crackers

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