Community helps support school backpack food program

Phillip Holliday and staff at the Holliday Family of Companies presents Missi Iasillo with the Cat and Pup Pack weekend food program for students with a check that will allow the program to continue supplying food for the remainder of the school year.

When the Cat Pack and Pup Pack weekend food program for students was faced with a revenue shortfall, several local businesses generously stepped up to help them reach students in need for the rest of the school year.

“We found ourselves in an odd position we’ve never been in before,” Missi Iasillo, who helps coordinate the program, said. “We were at the point of running out of money by the end of 2019. Now, we can finish out the school year.”

Through the program, Cat Pack and Pup Pack backpack of food items are sent home with students in need who are enrolled in the program.

“About 70% of students in the Scottsbluff school district are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program,” Iasillo said. “Teachers and counselors are the ones who know which students would qualify and the ones who need to have a food supply for the weekend.”

Currently, the food program sends about 160 backpacks of food home with Scottsbluff students every week and another 85 in Gering.

The Holliday Family of Companies helped start a GoFundMe page to raise money for the program. Then Floyd’s Truck Center and Complete Care Family Practice got on board and an outpouring of public support helped bring in a donation of $11,000 for the food program.

Phillip Holliday with the Holliday Family of Companies said as soon as they heard about the deficit he wanted to get involved in helping in any way they could.

“We have a special passion for helping kids,” Phillip Holliday said. “In a small community like this, there might not be front-of-mind awareness of the need. It’s astonishing how many families and kids are in need in our own hometowns.”

Iasillo said the community has a significant number of people the government classifies as “the working poor.”

“These are people who are working. But if you’re in a minimum wage job and have more than one kid, you’re going to struggle at the end of the month. Food is something no one should have to go without.”

She said it’s always a good feeling for her when people are able to drop out of the program because the need is no longer there.

“The number of backpacks we send out are up a little bit from the end of last year, but the need is definitely up,” she said. “The program has been around for 10 years and the first year about 10 backpacks were sent home with students for the last four weeks of school. It’s grown since then.”

Brent Holliday with the Holliday Family of Companies said what they do is share the love of God with those less fortunate.

“I haven’t missed many meals recently, but there are a lot of kids who do,” Brent Holliday said. “That bothers me and since our company has been so blessed, we like to support programs like this.”

Iasillo said the food backpacks are packed to be kid-friendly with things like ramen, individual cereal boxes, mac and cheese, crackers, fruit cups and peanut butter.

“We received donations from sources of all kinds, including individuals, business owners, parents, grandparents, teachers and pretty much everyone who cares about students in our area,” Kirk Hayes with the Holliday Family of Companies said. “The outpouring by our community and its members was truly inspiring.”

jpurvis@starherald.com

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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