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Jerry Davich: ‘Christmas Box’ project feeds hungry kids, souls over the holidays

CarlBerry Staci Pearman CainnamLyons Carleigh Loden pack box food Crossroads Family Church Portage Wednesday Dec. 19 2012. Pearman is spearheading

Carla Berry, Staci Pearman, Cainnamon Lyons and Carleigh Loden pack a box of food at Crossroads Family Church in Portage Wednesday Dec. 19, 2012. Pearman is spearheading an effort to provide enough food to last over the entire Christmas break for need Portage students. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 20, 2013 11:08PM



When Staci Pearman learned about the badly needed “backpack program” for needy school kids, she quickly noticed a larger problem with a broader gap.

The backpack program, in Portage schools for example, identifies children who are in extreme poverty and in dire need of food over long weekends. These young kids receive daily meals at school and at after-school programs, but not so much while away from school. So educators, the township trustee’s office and food pantry officials fill their backpacks with weekend meals to tide them over until the next school week.

But what about the long holiday break, which begins today for most school students? How do those hungry kids get fed over the two-week time period? The short answer: Many of them don’t.

“One of the teachers said she has witnessed kindergartners stuffing food in their pockets at lunch,” said Pearman, a youth sponsor at Crossroads Family Church in Portage. “She asked why they were doing that and they responded so they would have food for later at home.

“How do I spend Christmas gorging on fudge and some extravagant Christmas dinner knowing there are children in my community who will be doing without basic nourishment?” she asked me.

Fellow church member Carla Berry noted, “It is heartbreaking to imagine that some kids really have it this bad. Staci’s heart is in the right place and this is definitely a cause that we as a community should be aware of and help if at all possible.”

Typically, Pearman would spend months planning the success of such a project.

“Unfortunately, this need just popped up with not a lot of time to raise awareness and funds,” she admitted.

However, it hasn’t stopped her from creating the “Christmas Box” project, comprised of a large box of nutritious food that contains 15 days’ worth of three-a-day meals and two-a-day snacks. This is exactly what is needed for the 107 identified elementary school students who represent 67 families in need.

This isn’t about giving gifts to less-privileged children during the holidays, starting today on Christmas Eve. This is about giving food to children who otherwise may not eat.

“Everyone I have asked for help in some way has responded positively,” Pearman told me.

For example, Jan Black from Portage Schools’ food service office has offered needed resources. Lois Felten from Crisman Elementary School coordinated among the elementary schools and provided Pearman with the number of identified children. Brittany Demmond, a teacher at Myers Elementary School, has helped to raise awareness for more support. And Ellen Askren, a school bus driver, helped with technology and administrative tasks.

Plus, Mike Bean, the pastor of Crossroads Family Church, allowed use of church facilities for fundraising and box assembly. And its “4:12 Youth Ministry” program, under Berry and her husband, Jay, has helped with grocery shopping and box assembly.

“Several pastors from other churches have donated money as well,” added Pearman, who has been working with a nutrition teacher from Purdue North Central to develop a proper menu.

Pearman has been assembling these Christmas boxes with a host of volunteers. The selected families would then pick up the boxes or the boxes would be dropped off at their homes.

“We will never know any of these families personally,” said Berry. “And we really don’t care who gets the credit for providing the food, as long as it happens.”

Pearman said, “The important thing here is to make sure this need is met and those kids have food over their holiday break.”

Her initial deadline was Friday, but I was unable to write about her crusade until today. Still, I have a feeling that she and her trusty collection of elves can find homes for more Christmas boxes. The estimated cost for the overall project, however, was $5,350, and not nearly that amount has been raised so far.

A few hundred dollars, collectively, will be donated from the three region residents who are donating anonymously through me. (Read my Christmas Day column for details on their generosity to Northwest Indiana strangers in need.)

More support is needed if anyone feels the Christmas spirit, or from any businesses or corporations that are interested.

All tax-deductible donations go through Crossroads Family Church, 2386 Willowcreek Road in Portage, and should be directed to Pearman’s attention, earmarked to “The Christmas Box.” Debit and credit card donations can be made online at www.oneportage.com. Or contact Pearman directly at 688-4909 or via e-mail at stacipearman@gmail.com.

I understand that everyone may be squeezed empty by all the holiday giving — since Thanksgiving no less — but what more deserving gift is there than feeding young hungry children over the holidays?

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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