Quinn Raffo, 15, of Craigsville, West Virginia, a sophomore at Richwood High School, founded a summer backpack food program that has provided more than 30,000 meals over the past five years to students in her rural county who otherwise would not have enough to eat when school is not in session. When she was 10, Quinn had to fast for 24 hours before some medical testing. “I’ll admit, at first I thought it would be fun to only eat jello and popsicles for an entire day,” she said, “but I got hungry really quickly and realized it was terrible. I had never felt that type of hunger before.” That made her think about the kids at her school who would take “extras” home from lunch to keep from going hungry. She knew she had to do something to help them.
Quinn began volunteering at a food pantry and then learned that her town did not have a program to feed hungry kids over the summer. She researched how to start a backpack program, arranged to use a church’s community room, sent application forms to local schools, and then set about raising money through grants and fundraisers such as a car wash and a softball tournament. With money in hand, Quinn sets a weekly budget, plans a menu, shops for groceries, recruits volunteers to help assemble bags and delivers a stuffed backpack to each student’s house. Every child receives five breakfasts and lunches and 10 snacks for 10 weeks during the summer. Last year, Quinn had to quickly ramp up her program when teachers in her district went out on strike. She pulled together dozens of volunteers to provide meals to more than 750 kids during the 10-day walkout. “It never gets old to be able to provide something that you know people truly need,” she said.