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Volunteer award finalist fights hunger in Deer Lakes schools

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Volunteer Carol McCaskey loads grocery bags of food for the Deer Lakes Backpack Initiative, which sends food home with students that need it on Fridays. McCaskey is a finalist for the Trib Total Media and Direct Energy Volunteer of the Year award.

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A look at the finalists

Carol McCaskey, of West Deer, is one of five finalists for the Direct Energy and Trib Total Media's Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year. McCaskey recently started a program that stuffs brown bags of food into the backpacks of underprivileged children in the Deer Lakes School District.

Here's a look at the other four finalists:

• Teresa Amelio, McCandless. Established North Hills Community Outreach's garden, which grows fresh produce to be distributed to local needy families and food pantries.

• Maria Vondas, Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. After the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted her dying son, Christian, his wish to go to Disney World, Maria started “Christianpalooza,” an annual fundraising event that raises money for Make-A-Wish.

• Lutula and Sarah Love, Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, started the anti-bullying initiative A+ School Districts. The program was started after their son was bullied, and the couple refused to pull him out of school.

• Roberta Hall, Homestead. Wakes up at 4 a.m. four days a week to clean and prepare food at the Wallace Avenue Soup Kitchen. She also assists with clothing and food drives at the charity.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By R.A. Monti
Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

West Deer resident Carol McCaskey knew that the only meals some Deer Lakes School District students had during the week were the lunches and breakfasts served at school.

Over the weekend, when school was out and meals weren't provided, those same students would get little to nothing to eat.

That's why McCaskey started the Backpack Initiative to Fight Hunger.

As the result of her efforts, McCaskey is a finalist for the Direct Energy and Trib Total Media's Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year.

Every Friday afternoon, since the beginning of the January, McCaskey goes to Curtisville Primary and East Union Elementary to slip brown bags, with enough food for four weekend meals, into the backpacks of about 40 students in grades kindergarten through fifth. “I taught for 37 years and I knew children went home many evenings without any food,” said McCaskey, 68. “And probably didn't have much food over the weekend.

“There are a lot of struggling families out there,” she saod. “I know some of them need help, so I'm trying to help where I can.

“Where ever there's a need, I try to help.”

McCaskey said she didn't place any requirements or qualifications for which children can receive a bag of food for the weekend. “Sometimes even people who don't qualify for free or reduced lunch are still struggling,” she said. “Anyone can get the food if they need it.”

McCaskey's dedication to the children of Deer Lakes is one of the characteristics that made her a great choice to be a finalist for the Volunteer Citizen of the Year, according to Julie Hendry, a spokeswoman for Direct Energy who oversees the award selection.

“We get all these nominations and they're all stories about outstanding volunteers that are making our community a better place,” Hendry said. “What we look for is someone who sees an issue and figures out a way to fix it. Or goes out of their way to make it better.

“We loved her initiative and drive to help students who need help when the school district can't be present,” Hendry added about McCaskey. “Carol single-handedly manages the backpack program.”

McCaskey said she normally shies away from the spotlight when doing charity work.

But if she is named Volunteer Citizen of the Year, the Backpack Initiative will win $5,000 — something she couldn't pass up.

“The only reason I agreed to this is because of the money I can get for the program,” she said. “I don't like to be in front of anything.”

The winner of the Volunteer Citizen of the Year will be announced at an event at the Heinz History Center on March 30.

Tickets are being sold to the public for $100 each at

Proceeds from the tickets will be split among the four finalists who don't win to benefit their organizations.

McCaskey said regardless of whether or not she wins, she needs money to help her stuff student backpacks.

“Everything I get is from donations,” she said. “Anything will help.”

Anyone who wishes to donate to McCaskey should either call her at 724-312-5656 or email her at

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