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Go packs challenge

Photo by Janelle Patterson Patrick Snider delivers milk for the weekend GoPacks distribution to Marietta families on Friday.

According to national hunger-relief nonprofit Feeding America, this year 42 million people in the U.S. may experience food insecurity (the lack of consistent access to enough food to live a healthy life).

“This is the first school year that we’ve started the first bag to go home in the fall in triple digits,” said Heather Warner, executive director of the supplemental meal program GoPacks, which is administered to Marietta City Schools’ students and homeschool students living within the district. “Usually we don’t reach triple digits until Christmas.”

In 2018, Washington County saw 9,280 individuals living with food insecurity; 2,700 of those mouths were children’s.

Nationally, by 2019, the United States saw its lowest rate of food insecurity in 20 years.

Then, 2020 happened and supplemental programs like food pantries and the school-based GoPacks program saw the hungry mouths en masse.

In pre-pandemic times, granting agencies supplemented with annual dinners and fundraising, which included silent auctions, entertainment and even a little healthy competition.

But with an annual operating cost of approximately $90,000 for GoPacks, how does a small nonprofit feed 129 students this weekend, and each weekend of the school year, each break or extended holiday time without the ability to gather physical support?

“We love grants and we love local funders, but there’s something to be said for money that’s not earmarked because you can place it wherever there’s a brand new need,” Warner explained.

In the past, a Top Chef Challenge held at the Shriner’s hall in Marietta would thrill attendees of an annual dinner, with local chefs of restaurants competing for bragging rights in a test of taste and creativity.

In 2019, the event raised close to $10,000 in unrestricted funds to supplement food aid.

“They would be mic’d and would only have access to the food we send home, the canned beans, fresh produce, perhaps the granola bars, all of the things we use to meet nutritional guidelines,” Warner described.

And out of those ingredients, stiff competition for that trophy would emerge.

“That was the show, plus an auction, a silent auction, it was a whole event we want to bring back, just not this year,” she continued.

This year, one of those past trophy holders is instead preparing meals to take home, but ticket sales must be completed by midnight April 20, to give said chef time to work his magic.

“Tom’s one of our board members, too, but I went to his soft opening and got to eat his food there,” Warner said of Tom Hickey, new owner of the Levee House Bistro in Marietta.

The Levee House reopened its historic doors in February and as of this month is now permitted to once again afford the outdoor dining view of the Ohio River.

“I had to stop him and tell him, ‘man, you can cook!'” she laughed. “And he just pointed to his trophy.”

Hickey’s meals can also be tasted from the comfort of home, while supporting GoPacks this month, by selecting a $50 meal ticket at GoPacks4kids.org, or the $90 couple’s meal.

But a meal with dessert isn’t all that comes with the ticket price.

“Because we can’t have our culinary-themed auctions, or silent auction or our live auction, we are putting together a foodie swag bag that fills the role of the silent auction,” Warner explained. “And every purchase comes with a raffle ticket for one of our three great prizes up for grabs.”

The raffle includes a gift certificate to Amish Country Lodge, a Gervasi Vineyard picnic basket with wine and treats, and a summer seltzer gift basket.

“And then we are actually also putting together a food challenge bag that every dinner entree will get basically encouraging people while they’re eating a delicious meal made for them to think about how they would create their own dessert out of the breakfast and snack items we throw in there,” Warner explained. “We’ll give them a week and when they’re ready we ask they upload a picture to Facebook (and use) our hashtag.”

With #GoPacksChallenge, the engagement and competition widens, to make patrons part of the art.

For more information visit GoPacks4Kids.org.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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