MARYSVILLE — They never know the names of the people they help.
They just see the numbers, which keep growing.
Darlene and John Fails started the St. Mary Catholic Church Backpack Ministry in 2013. These days, along with two dozen other volunteers, they put together about 600 bags of food a week for young people. Most of the volunteers are parishioners at St. Mary. They have work parties every Thursday morning during the school year.
The backpack ministry works in partnership with the Marysville Community Food Bank and more than 20 campuses in the Marysville and Lakewood school districts. It supports the food bank’s “Food For Thought Backpack Program,” which began in May 2012.
“It’s not going away,” said Gail Miller, a volunteer and retired assistant superintendent for the Marysville School District. “We get more and more kids every year who qualify.”
The bags are designed to fit discreetly inside the students’ backpacks. Each holds enough food and snacks for the weekend for one child or teen. Families have to apply for assistance, and students who identify as homeless receive additional items. The schools handle distribution. The ministry also stocks pantries at some campuses.
“They aren’t sitting there unable to study because they’re hungry,” Darlene Fails said.
One of the lead volunteers is JoAnn Mulligan, who started the Marysville food bank and was its director for 35 years. The bags aren’t just about nutrition, Mulligan said. She sees them as gestures, showing young people who may be struggling that others care about them.
The ministry also draws support from the Tulalip Tribes, the Marysville Knights of Columbus Council and federal grants awarded by the city. In the past, the volunteers have been joined by teenagers, Scouting groups and missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It all began because the Failses, both retired, didn’t want local kids to go hungry. Darlene Fails thinks about their cause as she gets ready for each round of deliveries to schools, rain or shine. She hopes to inspire others to start similar ministries elsewhere.
“We are blessed that God has given us the ability and the will to do this,” she said. “We pray for the day when we don’t have to … when there is no need.”
The St. Mary Catholic Church Backpack Ministry offers opportunities for volunteers and donors.
Work parties start at 8:30 a.m. each Thursday during the school year at the Marysville Community Food Bank. There also are volunteer hours available on other days and in the summer.
Items accepted at the church include oatmeal packets, canned soups and pastas, boxed macaroni and cheese, canned tuna and fruit juice, along with toothpaste, toothbrushes, sandwich bags and shopping bags, which can be cloth or plastic.
Cash and checks are accepted and should be clearly marked for the backpack ministry. The program costs $5.57 to sponsor one child for a weekend and $22.28 for one month of weekends.
People also can donate directly to the food bank.
For information, call 360-658-1054, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.