McWilliams: We’re not phasing out Pawtucket Backpackers

McWilliams: We’re not phasing out Pawtucket Backpackers

PAWTUCKET – As rumors circulated this week that the Pawtucket School Department will no longer partner with the Pawtucket Backpackers, a volunteer group that feeds local students on the weekends, Supt. Cheryl McWilliams is doing her best to calm concerns.

McWilliams told The Breeze that someone from the Backpackers reached out a week ago to ask if they could bring items to temporary school meal sites being used during the new coronaviruspandemic, and she responded that there were too many logistical concerns due to the fact that distribution of food bags is typically coordinated at the school level, with confidentiality in mind.

Having some 200 bags of food distributed at the main meal sites would have led to them running out very quickly, she said, and likely not going to the children who needed them most.

“We obviously want to get food to kids, but we have to do it the right way,” she said.

The route school officials are choosing to go is to add a link on the School Department website sending families straight to the coordinators of Pawtucket Backpackers, allowing them to maintain confidentiality while still getting the food they need, said McWilliams.

She said she sees other opportunities for getting meals to needy families moving forward, and will work with various parties to make it happen.

Backpackers organizers said no one contacted them directly to say they would no longer be able to use the schools as distribution sites, despite them having an ongoing relationship with the district for several years. They said they heard it through their individual school contacts.

They are now seeking people to connect them directly with neighbors and communities to find the families most in need, and will then need volunteer help to actually deliver the food.

“It takes a village. Let’s work together,” said the group in a post. “All we need are community leaders that know where the food belongs and can help get it there.”

Anyone interested in helping is asked to email pawtucketbackpackers@gmail.com .