2022 EDUCATION EDITION
BY BRIAN RASH
Tom and Heather Cottar launched the nonprot Backpack Friends in Pugerville in 2018. BRIAN RASHCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER RAPIDLY GROWING NEED Tom and Heather Cottar work full time for the nonprot they created called Backpack Friends. Over the last eight years, the number of students they serve has grown substantially.
Backpack Friends volunteers ll food kits during Monday night packing parties. (Courtesy Backpack Friends)
Backpack Friends Nonprot provides weekend food kits for thousands of area students T om Cottar ocially launched the Puger- ville-based Backpack Friends nonprot in 2018 with his wife, Heather Cottar, but they both said they noticed a growing need to feed schoolchildren long before that.
12 students served at one campus
88 students served totaling 8,860 meal kits for the 2017-18 school year Food kits nearly double at 16,116 for 2018-19 school year Despite the pandemic, 24,657 weekend food kits provided for the 2019-20 school year Food kits nearly triple to 67,227 served throughout the 2020-21 school year 85,000 meal kits served in campuses throughout Williamson, Travis and Burnet counties for the 2021-22 school year More than 100,000 food kits to be delivered by the end of the 2022-23 school year
provide 8,860 meal kits to 88 students across four PfISD campuses. By the end of May 2022, Tom said Backpack Friends, which now serves students in campuses in Burnett, Travis and Williamson counties, provided more than 85,000 meal kits throughout the 2021-22 school year. Today, Backpack Friends also serves students in school districts including in Hutto, Taylor, Jarrell, Bertram, Florence, Marble Falls and Bartlett. With the rapid growth of the nonprot has come a need to scale up the overall system. Heather said that involves gatherings to make an average of 1,000 food kits per week during the school year as well as organizing delivery trips to each campus throughout the week. School sta then discreetly distribute each food kit on Fridays. One of the best parts of the work involves the packing parties with what Tom describes as an army of volunteers at the distribution center on Pecan Street near downtown Pugerville. “We have these Monday night packing parties,” he said. “We’ll crank up the music, and it’s Beyonce and Costco had a baby, and we’re throwing a party. It’s one of my favorite nights of the week.”
A minister at Pugerville’s First Baptist Church, Tom said one day in 2014 he heard about a local high school student who passed out in her English class because she was so hungry. “That put it on our radar that it was kind of a big deal,” Tom said. “In the state of Texas, 1 in 4 kids doesn’t have food to eat on the weekends, which is unbelievable to think about.” Fueled by that story and Tom’s own memories of food insecurity, he and Heather began working through First Baptist to raise money and resources to feed area schoolchildren. What began as an eort that produced weekend meal kits for 12 students at Pugerville ISD’s Spring Hill Elementary School evolved into a regional eort that now serves thousands more. After four years building a network through PfISD, Backpack Friends—which provides packages to food-insecure students to last them through the weekend—became a 501(c)(3) and had grown to
Backpack Friends 700 W. Pecan St., Pugerville 512-965-3052 www.backpackfriends.com
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ROUND ROCK EDITION • AUGUST 2022
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