Putting Others First
Radford Gives Back through the Bobcat Backpacks Program
By Mary Hardbarger
Alumnae Daniela Brunner '98, Jane Fisher '94, M.S. '00, and Jenny Riffe, M.S.W. '03, are passionate about their hometown and their fellow Highlanders.
After graduating from Radford University, they started their professional careers and settled with their families in the City of Radford. They also maintained a strong connection with their beloved alma mater.
Their love for the community, connection with Radford University and emphasis on education intersected just a few years ago when the women recognized a growing concern of food insecurity within Radford City Public Schools (RCPS).
Approximately 50 percent of RCPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Having raised their own children in the school system, the mothers witnessed firsthand how hunger affects students and their ability to focus in the classroom.
Instilled with the Highlander value of service to the community, Brunner, Fisher and Riffe responded to this significant need in a determined, practical and impactful way.
In January 2016, they founded the Bobcat Backpacks Program to help feed food-insecure students in the system, which includes two elementary schools, an intermediate school and one high school. The program, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provides weekend food for 180 RCPS students each week throughout the school year and summer months.
There are many ways the women reach students in need.
“Feeding hungry children comes from small and large efforts,” Brunner said. “From elementary students volunteering to unload food into their school each week to food and financial drives organized by community members, we have been able to reach so many in need.”
Almost every week, the alumnae, and new recruit Tory Leahy ’97, organize a packing night at a local church where students and their families, Radford University volunteers and community members unite to fill backpacks with non-perishable food items to send home with RCPS students during the weekend. Each bag is packed with two breakfast items, two lunches and two dinners.
They stock food pantries at Radford High and Dalton Intermediate schools with snacks and grab-and-go meal options, as well as toiletries and school supplies. Among the 180 students they serve are also preschoolers enrolled in the local Head Start Program.
Bobcat Backpacks is funded and replenished by several community partnerships, including a very important one with Radford University.
For the past three years, the Radford family has supported the program through the Radford Gives Back canned food drive.
Now a University tradition, the annual drive attracts hundreds of student, faculty and staff volunteers who not only donate food items, but also spend an evening on campus packing backpacks for distribution. The 2018 Radford Gives Back canned food drive collected a record 15,467 food donations. More than 300 University volunteers filled bags with these items in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center in October 2018.
“This has been a wonderful town-gown relationship,” Riffe said. “The outreach has been amazing, and the linkage between Radford University and the surrounding community is so important.”
To learn more, visit the Bobcat Backpacks Program Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BobcatBackpacks/.