Brookfield woman is the unsung hero in helping keeping children fed through the Menomonee Falls program of Blessings in a Backpack
Story by Cathy Kozlowicz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
If a child is receiving free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program then he or she is getting at least one nutritious meal during the school day.
But what about weekends?
The recipient of the Greater Menomonee Falls Foundation Unsung Hero Award, Rebecca Dombrowicki, helps make sure children do not go hungry. She is part of the 20 to 25 Menomonee Falls area volunteers with the Menomonee Falls chapter of Blessings in a Backpack.
The group fundraises and buys kid-friendly weekend meals and puts them in plastic bags for the kids to take home on weekends. The children get two entrees, two breakfast items and two snacks with each weekend bag, Dombrowicki said.
In Menomonee Falls, Blessings in a Backpack serves about 85 children weekly, packing about 2,600 bags annually, Dombrowicki said.
Dombrowicki has been part of Blessings in a Backpack since it started eight years ago. When she moved to Brookfield in 2016, she stayed on as program coordinator. She has held this position for five years.
Now, she has received the Unsung Hero Award; she was recognized Sept. 23 at North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls. Others recognized during the event were: Mary Stark, Lifetime Achievement Award; Gail Grenier Sweet, Shining Star Award; and John Lukaszewski, Patriotism Award.
Also at the ceremony, numerous area nonprofits received grants totaling almost $50,000, according to a news release from the Greater Menomonee Falls Foundation.
“I am really honored, and I don’t feel worthy of it,” Dombrowicki said.
But Menomonee Falls resident Lisa Jackson, who co-founded the chapter with Dee Dee Ternes, said Dombrowicki is very deserving. Jackson said that the number of meal bags doubled under Dombrowicki’s leadership.
“The program has gotten so much bigger … It is unbelievable how big it has gotten,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that as a teacher’s aide in the Menomonee Falls School District, she was surprised by the number of low-income families in the community. She said she has seen some families stay in hotels or even their cars.
“We are a suburb, and people do not think this happens,” she said.
When she saw the program Blessings in a Backpack profiled in a national magazine, she looked into how she could be involved.
Blessings in a Backpack is a national nonprofit with local chapters that provides food to school-aged children on weekends. These children are typically fed throughout the week on the nation’s free or reduced lunch program, according to the national organization’s website. The nonprofit organization started in 2005 and now serves 88,900 students in 1,092 schools in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to the website.
There is also Blessings in a Backpack Waukesha County Chapter that started in 2012.
The group accepts donations and has worked with groups such as the Girl Scouts and other school groups, delivers the food, and plans what to put in the bags.
Dombrowicki said volunteers plan the menu and shop once a month, and then compile bags each week. Examples of food included in the bags are cereal, applesauce, pasta, green beans, and soup.
The program serves all four public elementary schools in Menomonee Falls: Benjamin Franklin, Valley View, Shady Lane, and Riverside.
“It is all going to the kids,” she said. “Once we got involved and in raising money, it is hard to turn away from it.”
Dombrowicki said she worries that the children who are on the free and reduced lunch program do not eat as well as they should on weekends. She also said the group buys more meals for kids during the summer or during times when there is no school.
“Children should not have to worry about food,” she said.
Click here to make an online donation and in the designation field type “Menomonee Falls.” To volunteer, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For general information on Blessings in a Backpack for Menomonee Falls, visit their Facebook page, and for Waukesha County Chapter visit waukesha.blessingsinabackpack.org.