Volunteer Spotlight: Lindsey Olsen
Meet Lindsey Olson, program coordinator supporting four programs in Alexandria, Virginia.
How long have you been a program coordinator for Blessings in a Backpack?
This is my eighth year of being a program coordinator with Blessings in a Backpack. I started during the 2012-2013 school year.
How many children do you serve?
Although the number fluctuates, we currently serve roughly 160 children each week. We provide food to children at Franconia, Groveton, Hayfield, and Lane Elementary schools in Alexandria, Va.
How many volunteers support your program?
We have at least 25 volunteers who help pack the Blessings bags on a rotating basis during the school year.
What makes your program unique?
After starting our chapter, we were lucky to quickly partner with other community organizations within a short time frame. To that end, for the past several years, we’ve been blessed to use the space at Olivet Episcopal Church to store the food and pack the bags. This partnership enables us to open the packing up to not only their church members but to members of the community as well. There are no time commitments required of our volunteers. They can sign up for one packing a year, every packing, or any amount in between depending on their schedule. While we do have several key volunteers who show up regularly, we’ve been able to build community involvement by opening up the packings to whoever is available and interested.
What part of your program are you most proud of?
It’s hard to pick just one thing! I’m proud that we started this program with no experience after reading the People Magazine article, which showcased Blessings in a Backpack. Working full-time with two kids, it is not always easy. Over the past eight years, the program has evolved, and what I’m most proud of today is the number of children who volunteer with the program.
At each packing, we have kids who help to organize the food and pack the bags. Additionally, we partner with several different Girl Scout, Daisy, and Brownie troops throughout the school year to set up packing events. Through Blessings, these children are learning that at a young age, they too can make a difference, and their contributions are important. I hope this is a lesson that will last them for a lifetime.
What are some of the challenges you experience as a program coordinator?
We’ve overcome challenges along the way, such as outgrowing space and wanting to add more children but not having the resources to do so.
What advice would you give to new program coordinators?
I would tell new program coordinators to gather up a few key volunteers who you know will assist you. It helps to share the load. It can be overwhelming to try to do everything at once, so take it one step at a time! It will all work out.
Do you have a best practice/tip you would like to share?
I’ve found that a lot of people are looking for ways to help the community, and they just need direction. When you engage with community groups who want to put on packing events for you and/or collect food donations for you, be as clear and specific as possible.
Please tell us one fun fact about your program you would like to share.
One fun fact is that I started this chapter with two coworkers (turned friends) in my basement eight years ago when I had a one-year-old and a four-year-old. The kids would stack tuna into tall columns under the table while we packed the bags.
When you’re not feeding kids, how do you spend your time?
I work full-time for a national children’s nonprofit, which I also love. When not at work, I can be found at the baseball field cheering on my kids’ teams! Go Legends!