by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
County statistics for South Anne Arundel suggest that more than a thousand students are homeless with 51 percent of the students being enrolled in elementary school. While many of these children receive free subsidized lunches from their school on weekdays, the children and their family are very likely to go hungry on weekends. This is why the South Anne Arundel County Rotary club created a few years ago its Bountiful Backpacks project which provides meals as well as snacks to children in need. Rotarians, friends and volunteers meet on Friday mornings at a designated school to prepare backpacks filled with food either purchased by the club or donated. The children identified as beneficiaries in their school pick up their backpack as they leave school for the weekend, and they return it on Monday morning at the school.
Cort Vitty did not found this project, but he participates fairly regularly and was immediately on board when the project was first introduced in 2005. Cort insists that this is a team effort with many Rotarians involved. Special credit is due to Susan O’Rourke, a former teacher, who alerted the club to the growing problem of homelessness in Anne Arundel County and started the project. Rick Derrick manages the scheduling of packing assignments. Becca Derrick and her son Hank volunteer their time almost every week. Rick and Kathy Sood volunteer to shop for the food and make sure club dollars go a long way toward keeping shelves filled. These people are according to Cort the unsung heroes and they volunteer countless hours to sustain the program.
When we asked Cort what he felt was most rewarding in participating in this project, he simply replied that knowing that the children would be able to eat good, healthy food and not feel hungry was enough reward. Cort’s advice for Rotarians whether seasoned or new, is that no matter how you help, in big or small ways, you are still helping. Nobody should ever lose hope even if they may not be able to eradicate a problem with their project. As Cort puts it, no matter what or how hard and complex an issue may be to solve, there will always be people who will put service above self.
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).