Helping the Children of the Bayshore Area
Meet Suzanne Dice. She and her husband, Keith created The Backpack Crew in October 2013 which was a year after Sandy. They were inspired by a teacher friend who told them of the families that were struggling in her school. After reaching out to the school nurse and hearing that there were parents actively looking for emergency food they started packing backpacks and collecting food in their basement. For the next year and a half, they prepared those backpacks every week in their basement with food donated from several different sources, The Backpack Crew became a partner of Fulfill of Monmouth and Ocean for food donations and of course, they accept private donations of food and money. The United Methodist Church of Red Bank made them one of the church’s ministries and gave them a secure room for pantry storage and backpack processing.
Their mission is to provide children with food on the weekends when they do not have their school lunch to rely on. Each of the backpacks has a number that is assigned to a family. They know how many people are in each family and pack accordingly. So every week they pack backpacks and deliver them Friday to the school nurses . The nurse hands out the backpacks and the children bring them home to their families. Each backpack has two options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus snacks. On Monday the kids return their empty backpacks to the nurse. The Backpack Crew picks up the backpacks at the school and they repeat the process. They currently prepare 120 backpacks and distribute to 14 different schools in the Bayshore area.
In the summer months, they find local spots, the Red Bank Library for example, and set up a table for families to come to pick up food.
A New Challenge When There is No School
Then back in early March, Suzanne faced the challenge of how to continue to assist the families when school is not is session. Suzanne did not miss a beat and they are now delivering groceries to the Backpack Crews families’ homes. Recognizing that it’s difficult for some families to pick up food for many reasons such as transportation issues or work schedules. So they decided they needed to keep getting the food straight to the kids wherever they are right now. For obvious reasons, Suzanne is focusing on safety and she is doing this with a very limited volunteer crew.
BUT THEY NEED FOOD DONATIONS — people are buying food supplies — mac-n-cheese cups, fruit cups, peanut butter, jelly, soups, etc — on Amazon or dropping off the donations on the steps of The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, 247 Broad St., Red Bank. Mother Theresa said, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just ONE.” We are all hurting in some way at this time, but we have a choice to how we respond in difficult times. Take 5 minutes and purchase something now on Amazon and donate!
The Backpack Crew 5th Annual Gala was to take place on March 21 and will not be rescheduled as costs for event space is more expensive in the Fall. They will, however, post the silent auction online sometime in the future. Please watch their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and their website for this virtual silent auction fundraiser!
A Bit About Suzanne — Just for Fun
Q. Please tell me a little bit about your family.
A. “I have been married for 20 years to my husband Keith. My daughter is a Senior at North and I have two sons- a Junior at CBA and a 4th grader.”
Q. How long have you lived or worked in Middletown?
A. “I moved to this area in 1997. First Atlantic Highlands for a year and then Middletown.”
Q. Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?
A. “This is so cliche’ but I would have to say my grandmother. She was born in 1909 and lived to be 97. Spent her entire life in New Hampshire which became my favorite state. She was the youngest of 6 children and her mother died from complications of giving birth. Since she was a newborn she was adopted by a local family but still stayed connected to her siblings. My Gram was a tough lady. She bought a new car at the age of 90 with personalized license plates. Typical New Englander- she wasn’t an overly affectionate person but showed her love with food and really good whiskey sours! Everyone was welcome and well fed in her house. I spent a lot of time with her in the summer when I was young.”
Q. What advice would you give to people?
A. “Whatever you have to give is never insignificant. Especially in times like these. The need can be overwhelming. But even just reaching out and helping one person has a trickle down effect. I also love the saying- Work for a Cause. Not for Applause.”
Q. What is something on your bucket list?
A. “I’ve always wanted to go dog sledding. Which is weird because I am scared of dogs.”
Q. What current or former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Middletown?
A. “Current business I have to say Taliercio’s Deli. The guys in there have been so good to the Backpack Crew and to my family personally. My husband and I have been known to share a few Peter Luger sandwiches. There’s always lively conversations going on behind the counter and great food. Former business- we are still trying to deal with the loss of Shiki. I don’t know anybody that didn’t go there for some kind of special celebration. That was a huge loss for our town.”
Q. If you could choose anyone that is alive today and not a relative; with whom would you love to have lunch? Why?
A. “Dave Grohl. I am a huge music fan and I was in college in the early 90’s when Nirvana was so huge. His stories as their drummer and then creating the Foo Fighters would make for a fascinating lunch. I have seen a lot of concerts and one of the best was him at Fenway with a broken leg. I highly recommend watching the series Sonic Highways. Good stories and even better music! I enjoyed the book his mom wrote too.”
Q. What is your favorite thing or something unique about our community?
A. “I think for such a large town- the little pockets of small town life that you find throughout Middletown is very unique. From the horse farms on Chapel Hill to the bay in Leonardo to charming Navesink and the village of Lincroft. And I LOVE Poricy Park and it’s fascinating history there. It’s so beautiful and peaceful.”
Q. What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A. “In my prior life I was a specialist for Goldman Sachs on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter when 9/11 happened and that ended up being the end of my career. I have not been back since that day. It was difficult not having grown up in Middletown I didn’t know a lot of people. I only knew my life of commuting back and forth to the city. I had to create a new life as a new mom during a very scary time while my husband still commuted back and forth to Wall Street. (We met on the floor but worked for different companies) It feels like an entirely different lifetime ago but I still don’t talk about it often.”
Q. What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
A. “Dominican Republic. The beaches there are like nothing I have ever seen.”
Q. Who inspires you to be better?
A. “There is a woman at our church named Peg Rizzo. She has worked at Lunch Break forever in many different capacities. She is so involved in our church, her community and is a ball of laughs. She works long days and attends all of Lunch Breaks events. She has been mentoring me with our new food pantry and comes to volunteer with us even after working at Lunch Break all day. She has been a wealth of information especially during these difficult times of getting emergency food to a lot of people. I hope I have her energy and passion when I get older.”
Q. Finally, what 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A. “Safety, Togetherness , Food is Love