Meet Liz Benko an incredible volunteer who runs our Packs For Kids program, providing weekend meals for local children. She’s made such a difference in so many lives and is always working to find creative ways to save money on purchasing, and even helped supply more than 250 laptops for local students in the schools we partner with. Read on to learn more about this important program and how you can donate or volunteer!
When did you start volunteering at the Food Bank?
I started as a volunteer in late 2019 not long before everything shut down for Covid. In 2021 I took over as a volunteer coordinator for the Packs For Kids program.
Tell us a little about your background?
I was an architect and project manager for many years and moved on from that career. I felt I wasn’t making a difference in the world and helping my community in the way that I wanted to. I was raised by parents who went out of their way to teach about being a part of the community and doing what you can to contribute time, energy and talents.
What is the Packs for Kids program at University District Food Bank?
The program started in the early 2000s with one local school after Food Bank staff learned about the food insecurity that many children faced on the weekends. They were receiving free breakfast and lunch at school but what happened on the weekends?
Food Bank staff partnered with parents at Eckstein Middle School and started the program with just 15 kids. They would supply a pack filled with enough nutritious food for one child to eat at home over the weekend and not worry about their next meal. By the end of that year they had 6 or 7 schools on board!
Today we serve 14 Seattle schools and 700 kids in grades K-12. The foods we include are easy enough for the youngest children to prepare at home for themselves and we’ve worked with nutritionists to ensure that our packs meet nutritional standards – we buy prepared and shelf stable items that include trail mix, apple sauce, mac and cheese cups, shelf stable milks – foods that they enjoy and meet our standards.
How many families utilize it each week?
We serve almost 700 kids in Northeast Seattle, and our numbers are continuing to grow.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love the idea of helping kids who need it. I really believe every child deserve access to healthy food, it’s a human right. I also love connecting with my community and working with parent and staff volunteers, getting feedback about what the kids need. We have an amazing team of volunteers as well that keep this program alive. More volunteers are always welcome!
What is something our community may not know about Packs For Kids?
It’s the most expense per client program we operate because we need to ensure everything is easy for kids to prepare and eat. To achieve this we purchase 90-95% of the food in the packs and our grocery bills are increasing this year, just like everyone else’s.
In the last calendar year, the cost has increased 20% per child. Without more funding and financial support from our community there is a physical limit to the program.
Tell us about securing 263 laptops from Interconnection for kids in 2021!
It’s such a fantastic partnership! I helped coordinate with all schools we work with on our Packs For Kids program to get counts for how many students needed laptops. Interconnection in Seattle really understood our needs and there was no barrier to access, families did not need to give any personal information or prove eligibility to receive a computer. They ended up donating 263 laptops to local school children in grades K-12!
Interconnection is committed to digital equity and runs a store in Wallingford. Please check them out online or at their store and support how you can. interconnection.org