Acts of Kindness go far in Backpacks for Kids Program

CCUSD File Photo

One of the ways that the Culver City School District shines is by reaching out to the community to provide free food for students, who may not be getting enough to eat on the weekends.

These students’ families, through no fault of their own, may be experiencing anything from a parent unexpectedly losing a job, mounting medical bills from an illness or even homelessness. Not to mention that Los Angeles and has one the highest housing costs in the country.

Whatever the reason, a child may come home to an empty refrigerator and bare cupboards. In some cases, some may not even be fortunate enough to live in a home with a kitchen and have a refrigerator.

So, ready-to-eat meals and pre-packaged foods can be a literal lifeline for these less-fortunate students.

The idea came about in December 2013 when a concerned teacher and the school nurse at La Ballona Elementary School noticed that some of the kids were coming to the classes grumpy and hungry, and asking for a snack on Monday mornings. It was sadly discovered that these students were not getting enough food to eat at home on the weekends.

Culver City High School Athletic Director, Jerry Chabola, who also has the school stadium named after in his honor, heard about this dilemma and took it upon himself to buy 19 backpacks and fill them with nonperishable foods. As the number of students with food needs grew, Jerry sought the help of other volunteers to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Leslie Gardner, a former Parent Teacher Association President became involved, and she, in turn, recruited parent Jamie Wallace. Easy to make meals like boxed macaroni and cheese, soups, canned meats and granola bars were just a few of the groceries used to load up the backpacks. Currently, the Culver City Council Parent Teacher Association is run entirely by volunteers and sponsors the Backpacks for Kids program. Nearly 150 families district-wide now benefit weekly from this vital program.

This Parent Teacher Association-run program is funded entirely by donations and grants. The Enrichment Club and the Rotary Club have been among those generous donors.

These committed volunteers are quick to point out that discretion is of utmost importance. No names are ever given to any of the volunteers. They only receive a phone number of the student who has expressed a food need from a teacher or staff member. The student then comes on Friday to pick up their filled backpack. As long as the student returns the empty backpack early the next week, they can be assured of the same scenario again on Friday.

With a combined student population of more than 6,000 students and of those, one-third are receiving free or reduced lunch, the numbers do not reflect the number of backpacks being sent home. As important as it is for teachers and staff to very discreetly pull a student aside to ask if they would like to receive food pack on the weekends, another key component is the student being willing to reach out and ask for help. It takes courage and strength to express a need, especially for a child, which is a reason why the numbers of backpacks needed exceed the current number that is given out.

Culver City Unified School District offers other resources as well like the Culver Closet which provides clothing and toiletries free of cost to students in need. There is also a Food Pantry at Culver High School. High School Counselor, Adrienne Madrid directs students to this valuable resource as well. Lastly, is the “Prom Project” which helps students by providing everything from wardrobe needs to flowers and professionals applying their makeup.

Those looking for a small way to invest in their community, that will yield big returns, should look no further. The current needs are monetary donations, and gift cards. If you prefer to donate your time, they are always in need of a few strong arms during the weekday mornings and even trips to Costco to pick up food. Or if you are looking for a small way to give back that will have a big return, see the web address below: or visit the Culver City Unified School District website at: