PHOENIX – When Phoenix Central School District parent Sheila Dion saw a need for a weekend food assistance program for students, she was eager to explore ways to meet that need.
As a result, Dion, in conjunction with the Southern Oswego County Council of Churches and PCSD officials, launched Erin’s Angels Backpack program last year to provide nourishment for elementary students when school was not in session.
Volunteers spent every Thursday packing bags for students in need, filling them with a weekend’s worth of food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
“When the children go on winter and spring break, we increased that to include food for the whole week,” Dion said. “We often pack oatmeal or cereal bowls, cans of soup, Hormel complete meals, boxes of mac and cheese and more.”
Looking to build on the success of the program’s inaugural year, and with a desire to give back to the school district, 2013 Phoenix graduate Liz Russell started researching grant opportunities that would fund the initiative and help sustain it into the future.
Russell, who is studying library and information sciences at Syracuse University, wrote a grant seeking additional funds for the backpack program.
Her efforts recently paid off in a big way when Russell learned that the Shineman Foundation would provide $5,000 for Erin’s Angels.
“It’s amazing to have an alumna give back to the community by putting in the time and effort to write a grant,” said PCSD Superintendent Christopher Byrne. “It really says something about how close-knit the community is, and we’re grateful for Liz’s efforts and to the Shineman Foundation for their generosity.”
Last year, 32 elementary students received food as part of the backpack program.
Even more students are expected to benefit in 2018-2019, as the middle and high schools are opening up the program to the teenage demographic.
“We’re working with the guidance department and the nurses at Emerson J. Dillon (middle school) and John C. Birdlebough (high school) to provide them with food to distribute as needed,” Dion said. “My hope is to eventually serve children in need across Central New York.”
For now, Dion said she will continue to work with the volunteers, school organizations and local businesses that have been such an integral part of the backpack program.
With the support of Phoenix public officials, nonprofits, Leslie English (CEO of Dale Carnegie of CNY), community members and alumni, the program has enough support to sustain itself for years to come.
“The most rewarding part has been seeing how the community comes together for a cause,” Dion said, noting that she was grateful to all who contributed. “Phoenix is a small town and when there is a need in the community, you can bet they will meet the need. And in this case, they have exceeded it!”
According to Superintendent Byrne, Dion’s efforts, along with the community’s support, have had a significant impact on PCSD students.
“Sheila Dion deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making this idea a reality for our students and their families,” Byrne said. “Sheila has far exceeded my expectations for making this program such a huge success since its inception last year.”
This year’s backpack program will begin in the fall.
For more information about the program, please contact program coordinator Dion at [email protected] or by phone at 315-399-6602.