- Associated Press - Sunday, December 27, 2020

CAIRO, Neb. (AP) - Nine years ago, Marcia McDonald started a backpack program to give extra food to Centura students who could use it.

For eight years, McDonald and her husband, Bill, worked hard, packing bags in their garage and attending to many details to keep the food coming.

This year, The Grand Island Independent reports McDonald turned over the backpack food program to her great-niece, Faith McDonald.

A junior at Centura, Faith has joined with her friends from the FBLA program in doing a good job of helping to tide over Centura students through the weekend.

Faith McDonald gets a lot of help from Jaelyn Gross, who is the president of Centura Future Business Leaders of America, and Rhegan Jensen, who is the treasurer. Faith, 17, is the group’s vice president. Other students lend assistance as well.

The number of recipients has slowly grown during the years. When the program started, 23 students received food. Now, the food goes to 48 students.

The FBLA has 65 members. But many more Centura students help keep the backpack program running, said Stacie Loeffelholz, a Centura teacher who is also FBLA adviser.

Many Centura students contributed to a recent food drive, organized by Future Farmers of America and FBLA. Other students step up when Faith McDonald, Gross and Jensen ask for help.

Even in the middle of Nebraska, some people could use a little more food.

“The school does a good job of feeding those kids during the week,” Marcia McDonald said. “But on the weekends a lot of kids go home and they don’t have anything to eat, or maybe they’re on their own.”

Once a week, the food is dropped in students’ backpacks when they’re hanging in the hallway.

Marcia likes the way so many students have signed up to help this year.

It’s good that students see “that there’s a need, and that they can help,” she said.

When her great-niece asks for help, the students say yes “because they just want to be involved,” Marcia McDonald said.

It’s nice to see more people “helping and giving,” she said.

Initially, Faith asked her great-aunt if she and a couple of friends could help as a service project. Marcia showed them how to do it and left them in the garage on their own.

When Marcia expressed reservations about continuing to run the program, Faith said, she volunteered the FBLA’s involvement “without really talking” to Loeffelholz.

Later, she called the adviser and said, “This is something we need to do.”

In coordinating the program, Faith McDonald has learned how to budget funds, order food and keep track of her inventory.

Loeffelholz likes the way it has all worked out.

“These kids are awesome,” she said. “It’s about students helping others and learning so much in the process,” she said.

The program has received a lot of help from Heartland United Way and Project Hunger in Grand Island. Andrea Floth of Project Hunger is a graduate of Centura, where she was president of FBLA.

Teresa Hahn, a paraeducator at Centura, has been a key contributor.

Generous members of the community provide some of the food and financial support, Faith McDonald said. The government supplies a portion of the food.

Coupons are used to supply kids with perishable items, such as milk, bread and eggs.

Marcia McDonald lives between Rockville and Boelus. Faith lives nearby.

“Her dad is my nephew,” Marcia said.

She thinks highly of her great-niece.

“She is a very capable, organized, devoted and committed person,” Marcia said.

The junior already has her eye on the future. She keeps detailed records so that those who succeed her won’t have to start from scratch.

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