Volunteer Spotlight: Chuck Neff

Volunteer Spotlight: Chuck Neff

Meet Chuck Neff, program coordinator supporting Washington Park Elementary School in Washington, Pennsylvania.

How long have you been a Program Coordinator for Blessings in a Backpack?
I started during the school year of 2011-2012. So we have completed 10 years!

What inspired you to start a Blessings in a Backpack program?
I am on the board of Washington Christian Outreach, a non-profit non-denominational group in Washington, Pennsylvania. This group presently has a food kitchen and a used clothing store where we provide food and clothing at no cost to people in need. Part of our vision was to do more to help children of families in need. We found Blessings in a Backpack online and started the process of joining. The local school board approved our program, and we have been going strong for 10 years!

How many children do you serve?
We serve between 750 children per week. First, we supported Washington Park Elementary School in Washington and later included Transformation Learning Center in Claysville, Pennsylvania.

How many volunteers support your program?
We have a base team of 12 volunteers who work weekly and nine supporting groups of 10 who work every nine weeks for approximately 100.

How did your program continue to feed kids during the COVID-19 school closures?
We usually work 3-5 weeks, but during COVID, we missed about half of those weeks. Packing was no problem, but the distribution was complex since the students were on several different schedules.

What makes your program unique?
We have survived 10 years of totally funding donated dollars. During our first three years, we had one company who sponsored us entirely, but we have raised money on our own since then. The reputation of Washington Christian Outreach has helped a lot in our fundraising.

What part of your program are you most proud of?
The goal of our program is to help supply students with nourishment over the weekend so that they are ready for school on Monday. I am most proud of the fact that we do that!

What are some of the challenges you experience as a Program Coordinator?
During COVID, the most significant problem was getting 750 food items weekly and finding enough volunteers to assist.

What advice would you give to new program coordinators?
Make sure that you have school board approval, a food supplier that is flexible and dependable, and a core group of helpers. You should not start the program until you are sure that you can finance it for at least three years.

Please tell us one fun fact about your program you would like to share.
Our core group always discusses one remarkable fact of our history. No matter how bad the weather is, rain or snow, it always slows to a stop while loading the food into our van. We never get too wet. We believe that it is a prayer that makes that happen.

Where do you see your program in three years? 
We have stayed with the same two schools all these years. There are other schools in the general area that could use this program. Perhaps we could expand or help someone start a new program.

What does Blessings in a Backpack mean to you?
I have been retired for 20 years, and for the last 10 [years], Blessings in a Backpack has been my life. We run the program for nine months and take the other three to prepare for the next school year.

When you’re not feeding kids, how do you spend your time?
I am volunteering at Washington Christian Outreach, on the board, and working in the soup kitchen. I also volunteer at my church.