New anti-hunger program starts at Sawyer school

Somerz Sylvester, a ninth-grader at Gwinn High School and a member of the Living Faith Fellowship group LFF Aviators, and her mother Monika stuff a Paw Pack that contains food items. Paw Packs will be given to students at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

K.I. SAWYER — A typical day goes so much better for youngsters when they have full bellies instead of empty ones.

To help alleviate hunger in the region, a new program called Paw Packs has been created to get foods in the hands of students at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School.

Hannah Erickson, program coordinator for Paw Packs, said money is being raised to buy food to put into packs so kids don’t go hungry over the weekends. The effort is starting at Sawyer Elementary in the hope it will expand to Gilbert Elementary in Gwinn and possibly Gwinn Middle/High School.

Partners so far include Econo Foods, Larry’s Family Foods and Dollar General, said Erickson, who noted efforts are underway for Paw Packs to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so it can work with the national group Feeding America. Paw Packs also will partner with the Ending Hunger Alliance of Marquette, which has donated $2,000 worth of food, according to the Paw Packs Facebook page.

Erickson was inspired by other groups, including the Houghton-based 31 Backpacks.

“I realize a lot of people want to help, to volunteer,” Erickson said. “They want to give. It just needed somebody to step up to coordinate it all, so that’s me now.

“We’re looking for all the help we can get.”

She said donations “big and small” as well as volunteers are being sought. A monthly bingo game will serve as a fundraiser to sustain the program, plus there will be seasonal fundraisers.

Erickson noted about 75 percent of Gwinn Area Community Schools students have free or reduced lunches compared with Marquette and other areas that have substantially lower rates.

“That just shows that there’s a need out here,” Erickson said.

A local youth group called the LFF Aviators, based at K.I. Sawyer’s Living Faith Fellowship church, will “faithfully” pack on Thursdays, she said, while Gwinn social workers will hand out the Paw Packs to students.

A little patience is requested from the public.

“I know other backpack programs send letters home, and we have that ready to go, but since we’re just starting, people will have to be patient with us until we can get the funds and we’re rolling,” Erickson said.

The program, she noted, is starting with first- and second-graders, with kindergarten students and those in grades 3-5 to come later.

Erickson has kind words for the social workers who for now will choose the Paw Pack recipients.

“They’re wonderful,” she said. “They know the families.”

Erickson gets emotional when thinking about some kids’ hardships.

“I remember going to school, and you can definitely tell the kids that are hungry, and what’s worse than a hungry child?” Erickson said.

Although she acknowledged her dislike of asking people for things, when it comes to a hungry child, that’s a different situation.

“I’ll give anything I can, and that’s what we’re starting to do now,” Erickson said.

In fact, she said the first day she was organizing food in a room at Sawyer Elementary, one child came to the door to talk with a social worker, saying how he loved the food, and how he wanted more.

“That’s why we’re doing it,” Erickson said.

Paw Packs also can benefit the volunteers performing the actual packing.

One of those volunteers who helped out Thursday was Paige Wagner, a student at Gwinn Middle School and an LFF Aviator.

“I usually don’t have anything to do at home, so I want to help people,” Paige said.

To help with Paw Packs, visit its Facebook page or email

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is