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Bulldog Bags is in its eighth year making sure Stow-Munroe Falls children have enough to eat

Bulldog Bags is feeding a lot of people.

The nonprofit has been distributing food to children and families in the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District since 2015. We caught up with the organizers to learn more about the program and its origins.

“Jan Mather, who has since passed on, and I began Bulldog Bags,” said Stow resident Laura Root, the president of the program on a voluntary basis since its inception. “A counselor from one of the elementary schools came to the United Methodist Church Food Pantry in Stow, which Jan and I were running at the time, and asked if we could pack a bag of food for a family. A young student was telling his teacher and his principal that he was hungry and was asking where his bag was. This happened to be a kid who moved from the Akron Public Schools, and he got a bag every week when he lived in Akron. When he moved to Stow, there weren’t any bags, so we packed a bag of food and gave it to this child. That same counselor came back to us again for the same family.”

Root and Mather got to thinking, “Maybe there’s more need out there than we even understand, so maybe we ought to be looking into this.” That prompted them to write a letter of organization to area churches and local organizations such as the Kiwanis and Rotary.

“We asked if people were interested in even pursuing an idea that maybe we need to be looking at Stow and seeing if there was a need,” Root said. “Probably 20 people came in. The right people walked in the room. They were either a president of an organization or attended a church or whatever, but they were interested in helping kids, which was the main thing. So we looked at a lot of other similar programs. There were a lot of backpack programs around the area. There were some that were national.

“Even though we kind of followed some plans that other organizations used, we decided we were going to try this on our own. We started putting together the idea that we needed to have people donating the food and money because obviously there wasn’t any money. We also partnered with the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, and that was a big help. They were helpful in helping us get it organized. When you purchase from the Foodbank, it’s a good deal cheaper.”

Root and her cohorts put together a program to see how it went.

“It was very instrumental in working with Stow schools because that’s how we got our numbers,” she said. “Each school was able to give us a number of children who were on free and reduced lunch. Those are who got targeted, and so we packed that many bags. When we first started out, we just did the elementary schools. The first bag went out in January 2016. We only sent one bag a month. By the fall of 2016 we added the intermediate building, and then we just kept adding buildings as the children were moving along. There wasn’t going to be any less need; they were still going to need the bags.”

Bulldog Bags has grown into a weekend food program that now sends two bags a month to more than 700 students within the nine schools in the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District, from pre-K through 12th grade.

“We pack the bags at Stow City Hall two Friday mornings a month,” explained Root. “We have drivers who come and take bins full of the bags to the schools, and the schools discreetly get the bags to the students to keep their anonymity. The students put them in their book bags and take them home. Obviously, the senior high and junior high bags have more food in them than the elementary bags. We figure that, for a weekend, it’s about three breakfasts, three lunches and some snacks.”

Submitted photo

Bulldog Bags also provides a box of food containing about 10 meals to families within the school system once a month.

“That’s kind of an outgrowth of the bags,” Root said. “After we were done for the school year, we thought, ‘OK, what’s happening now with the kids?’ The boxes are packed at First Christian Church of Stow. The difference here is that the families who are registered for these boxes come and get them, but the process is exactly the same. We get donated food and donated money, and we use the Foodbank. Sometimes we purchase food from stores, but sometimes the stores donate food to us. Right now, there are between 70-80 families registered.”

Both the bags and boxes contain a nice variety of food.

“We have a menu and purchasing committee that does that planning,” said Root. “They do the actual grocery shopping.”

Root, who has about 350 volunteers assisting her, also reaches out to childcare centers, home-schooled children and online children.

“If they qualify, they can receive bags as well,” she said.

Hudson resident Matt Pallo is on the board of directors of Bulldog Bags. He does a little bit of everything.

“I help where the rest of the team needs it,” he said. “Denise Mullins and I tag team a little bit, making sure we get social media posts out there about the organization. I’m kind of hands-on as far as being a regular volunteer at the packing of the bags and packing of the boxes.”

Bulldog Bags puts on several fundraising events, including its signature event called “Buses for Bags,” an annual bus pull at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.

Submitted photo

“Teams sign up, and they pull a bus to see who does it the fastest in a race,” said Stow resident John Hayduke, who is the fundraising chairman and is also on the board of directors for Bulldog Bags. “They make fireman ropes that you can tie to one end, and then you can have 10 people pull a bus, and amazingly enough, once it gets going, it’s not that bad. We have food vendors, carnival games, all that sort of stuff. We’ve partnered with the city, and it’s become more of a community event, not just a fundraising event. We had Campy Russell from the Cavs come out for it last year. The next Buses for Bags will be April 29.”

Another fundraising event is Dine to Donate, in which a community restaurant donates a portion of its sales from a particular day to Bulldog Bags.

“We’ve even had the Stow Ice Cream Truck donate a portion of its sales to us from a particular day,” Hayduke said. “We’ve also done raffles through the Stow Community Farmers Market and the local Browns Backers group that meets at Wing Warehouse in Stow. We’re also the recipient of the New Year’s Eve 5K in Stow. They’re guaranteeing no less than $2,000 to be donated to Bulldog Bags this year. The more people who run the race, the more money Bulldog Bags gets.”

Root feels very gratified that she heads an organization that helps feed children and their families.

“I also get a chuckle every once in a while,” she said, “because I’ll be in the grocery store, and a kid will see me and say, ‘That’s the Bulldog Bag lady’ or something like that. The teachers will report to us that the kids, especially the elementary kids, are delighted to get their bags. That Friday is a very exciting day for them. The people who get the boxes definitely let the people know when they pick up their boxes how much they appreciate it. We get thank-yous, there’s no doubt about it.

“We care a lot about the kids in the Stow-Munroe Falls schools, and we want to make sure that they’re serviced.”

“It's amazing and very humbling,” said Pallo. “I never had to worry about food. We weren’t rich growing up, but we were fine. We did well. My parents did fine. With my wife and I, our three kids have never had to worry about food. To think that there are kids out there who literally don’t even have enough food to get through the weekend, the fact that we’re able to, maybe not solve the whole problem, but make the impact and get these kids food … I feel very proud to be able to say that we’re helping these kids. It just fills my heart.”  

For more information on Bulldog Bags, visit BulldogBags.org.