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Filling Backpacks, Stomachs - and Hearts

A Hope student-athlete launches a nonprofit to help children in need

Jenna Maury (right), a Hope College junior who competes in softball, volunteers with Buddy Bags, a program she started in high school to feed families in need. SUBMITTED BY JENNA MAURY

More acts of kindness:

More than teammates: The Edgewood College women’s golf team decided to forgo a scheduled tournament in order to support a charity golf tournament in honor of teammate Betsy Ennis’ father, who died in 2009. Ennis and her family sponsor the outing every year.

Own it: The University of Oklahoma wrestling team visited local elementary schools this fall and gave a presentation providing awareness on bullying. Coach Mark Cody and his team also taught defensive stances and handed out bracelets that say “Own It” – which refers to owning your actions.

All for one: Members of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, football team kicked off the athletics department’s bone marrow drive to help alumnus Carl Fox (Class of ’75), who is battling bone marrow cancer.

When Jenna Maury isn’t stuffing the stat sheet on the softball field or facts into her head for an upcoming psychology exam, she is cramming food into backpacks for needy families in her hometown of Lawton, Michigan.

Maury, a junior on the Hope College softball team, heard a call for action as a 16-year-old while attending church with her mom. Her town, like so many others, is home to a significant population of families who struggle to afford basic needs.

Her ambition to help became action, and she jumpstarted a nonprofit to load kids’ backpacks with food items to send home on the weekends, when subsidized or free lunches are not available. “Buddy Bags Inc. is a reflection of the love for my small community and the people in it,” says Maury, a psychology and sociology major. “We all know each other. This is about community support and helping others.”

The high school sophomore enlisted the support of her school. School counselors identify students – kindergartners through 12th-graders – who would benefit and have filled out an application to participate. The families remain anonymous to Maury and the other volunteers – many from the Lawton High School Honor Society – who fill the backpacks with food. Each Friday, in order to keep the identity of the kids secure, the backpacks are delivered to their school and dropped off in the school’s office. At the end of day, the kids then pick up the backpacks.

The nonperishables and backpacks are collected through fundraisers, food banks and donations from local businesses. Buddy Bags has grown from helping seven families per week in its first year to 33 per week now, six years later. Word spread that Maury was behind the project, and one emotional encounter before a high school basketball game still resonates with her. “A family I knew and cared about approached me and told me how much of a relief the food was,” Maury says. “I had no idea they were benefiting from this. I immediately broke down in tears.”

Now, while attending Hope in Holland, Michigan – more than an hour away – Maury has expanded the mission to other area schools and manages volunteers who carry out the mission. She still organizes and runs fundraisers, but given a spare moment, she is back in Lawton on the front lines, stuffing bags of food. “I’m not doing this for me, and I hope this organization continues to thrive in the years forward,” Maury says. “I want people everywhere to know that one small idea can make such a large impact.”

 

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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