Q&A with Blessings in a Backpack CEO Brooke Wiseman
    Volunteers fill backpacks with food outside the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington D.C. Photo by U.S. Department of Education / Licensed under Creative Commons via Flickr

    This year, most of the proceeds raised for Northwestern University Dance Marathon will go to benefit a charity called Blessings in a Backpack, which provides food on the weekend to thousands of children who live in food-insecure households nationwide. Serving 3,550 children at 37 different sites around the Chicagoland area, the funds raised from Dance Marathon will contribute to almost 300,000 hunger-free weekends over the next three years. NUDM also partners with the Evanston Community Foundation each year to fund local projects and grants.

    NBN sat down with Blessings in a Backpack CEO Brooke Wiseman to talk about Blessing’s reach and impact. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    NBN: How many students are currently helped by Blessings in a Backpack?

    Wiseman: Across the country, we have 84,000 children in the program.

    NBN:  How did you get involved with Dance Marathon?

    Wiseman: We applied about a year ago. We were thrilled with the whole concept, so we just put our hat in the ring.

    NBN: What will the impact be of your group working with Dance Marathon?

    Wiseman:We’re hoping to add at least 7,000 children to our program over the next three years. That’s about 300,000 hunger-free weekends through the dollars that are hopefully raised through Dance Marathon.

    NBN: Do you have an estimate of many of these kids would be in the Chicagoland area?

    Wiseman: I don’t really. We would work first in Evanston and around the Chicagoland area, then throughout Illinois and then possibly through the Midwest. It’s will just be a question of where is it needed most. But we hope that the bulk of the money will go around the Evanston and Chicago area. We’ve opened four new program sites in Evanston and Chicago this year, so we’re already feeding 200 more children each week due to our partnership.

    NBN: How do you select children to participate in your program?

    Wiseman: Actually, we let the schools do it. The bottom line is that they need to be qualified for free or reduced lunch or breakfast already. When we decide we’re going to work with a school, we go into the school and we let them make the selections. The school knows the children better than we do and so we let them make that determination as to who needs it the most. The school chooses the individual children. In fact, we rarely know who those individual children are. We want to keep it anonymous for them so they’re not singled out in any way.

    NBN: How much of the money raised will go to overhead costs?

    Wiseman: It costs us $100 to feed a child for the year. I would say it would be about 10 percent [that] would go to buy the backpacks, train the volunteers, those kinds of things. We’re really low-cost because we’re really volunteer-driven.

    NBN: What has the process of working with NUDM been like?

    Wiseman: It’s been great. The students are very skilled. They know what they’re doing. They’re really great fundraisers. Our job has mainly been to support them in their work and to see that we can add value wherever we can. One of our staff members is primarily working with them. We follow their lead. When they need help, we’re here to give it because they know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing for like 42 years, so they’ve got a bit of a track record.  

    Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that every year, some of the proceeds from NUDM go to the Evanston Community Foundation. A previous version of this story stated that all proceeds will go to Blessings in a Backpack.


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