Freeport teens spearhead backpack project for needy
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 1:26 a.m.
Freeport Area 10th-grader Mickey Frazetta is continuing his family's tradition of giving through a program that provides impoverished elementary school kids with food for the weekend.
With the help of his parents, three friends and their families and financial support from the community, Frazetta, 15, brought the Blessings in a Backpack program to the Freeport Area School District.
His golf and hockey teammates Matt Huston, 16; Stone Haberstroh, 15; and ninth-grader Corey Schrecengost, 14, help run the program by organizing fundraisers and filling the backpacks each week.
“It gives us a chance to give back to the community,” Huston said.
During the 20th annual food collection held this week at Frazetta Chiropractic Wellness Center in Buffalo Township, they asked for monetary donations for Blessings.
Blessings in a Backpack is a national charity that local groups can bring to their school district to provide easy-to-prepare food items such as instant macaroni, oatmeal and granola bars to children who get free and reduced lunch at school.
The backpacks are distributed every Friday so the kids have something to eat over the weekend.
Blessings serves more than 63,000 children in 583 schools in 45 states.
About 50 students at Buffalo Elementary and a few students at South Buffalo Elementary and the Freeport Kindergarten Center pick up a backpack full of food at school each Friday.
The backpacks are provided by Blessings and look like any other book bag a student might use. Participation is kept as confidential as possible.
Not long after they started handing out the bags in January, the boys said they found a note in one of the backpacks from a student that said how much they like the food and how much it meant to them.
“A lot of people just take for granted going into their fridge and getting some food,” Frazetta said. “But the people that we help say their parents can't really provide for them.”
It costs between $80 and $100 per child to provide food for the 38 weekends during the school year.
That means the four teens are responsible for raising about $5,000 a year to support the local Blessings program.
They've spearheaded fundraising efforts like a school Halloween party, placing donation cans at businesses and setting up a stand at the Wal-Mart in Harrison, which is their grocery store partner for Blessings.
Christ Community Fellowship church in Buffalo Township donated $500 worth of food and the Freeport High School Key Club made Blessings one of the beneficiaries of its Awake-A-Thon.
Similar to a walk-a-thon, students get sponsors for each hour they stay awake during the all-night event.
As part of starting the local Blessings program, the teens and their parents had to make a three-year commitment to coordinate and raise money for it, serve at least 50 students in the first year and establish a partnership with a local grocery store willing to work with the charity on pricing.
“We want the kids to come up with the ideas because we want them to own it,” said Carol Frazetta, Mickey's mom and an insurance specialist at the chiropractic center. “They see the impact it makes in our local community, and I think they enjoy being part of that and making a difference.”
Educators whom Blessings has surveyed say that students who are part of the program have better test scores, improved reading skills and increased attendance compared to before their participation.
Buffalo Elementary School Principal Steve Poleski said it's been a good program for the school.
“The students seem to appreciate it,” he said. “We have the lunch program here that makes sure students eat throughout the week, and it's nice to know they're getting food over the weekend.”
A tradition of giving
The Frazetta family has a long history of giving back to the community.
An annual food collection at Frazetta Chiropractic has become a community event that seems to bring in more donations each year, said Dr. Michael Frazetta, the owner.
The food is donated to the Cabot United Methodist Church food bank, which serves Winfield, Buffalo and Clearfield townships and Saxonburg.
“Food is just a basic element that everyone should have no matter what the circumstances,” said Michael Frazetta. “It's a local food bank, and I think that's why it's becoming such a big deal in our office because people know it's going right back into our community.”
During the food drive, the chiropractic center accepts a cash donation or a minimum contribution of five food items as a patient's co-pay for a visit.
Carol Frazetta said each year's successful food collection is a result of the community's generosity.
“They may bring in four or five bags of food or stuff $100 in our donation can,” she said. “They look forward to this every year because a lot of people want to do something, but they might not have an outlet or a push.
“We even get people who haven't been in our office before that just stop and drop off food.”
Joyce Jenkins, of Middlesex Township, one of Frazetta's patients, stopped in to donate. She said doesn't have much, but she gives what she can.
“I'm very thankful for what I have,” she said, “and I want to share.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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