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‘Blessings in a Backpack’

By Staff | May 1, 2019

Hundreds of Southwest Florida students got to hear words of inspiration from over a dozen world-class athletes last Friday as part of a program that provides food over the weekend for students who may not have access to meals otherwise.

Two philanthropy-driven organizations, “Blessings in a Backpack” and “Champions 4 Children,” partnered up to feed underprivileged children in the region, showing them that they can, in-fact, overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way and become successful in whichever endeavor they so choose.

At Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at Florida SouthWestern State College, students filed in for free breakfast, their chance to meet Tony the Tiger, hear the athletes speak and receive their meals for the weekend.

Current and former NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA, Olympic and collegiate athletes were in attendance.

Bishop Verot grad and former Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Adam Piatt was on hand to speak with the youth, as well as bring some energy, smiles and high fives to the morning.

“It feels amazing. I’m humbled,” Piatt said. “This is just such a great organization. I love the fact that the money that’s raised here stays here locally.

“You see these kids and your heart melts. You take for granted having nutrition. If you go a couple days without eating — and some of these kids do that — how are you expected to learn? How are you expected to grow as a child? Any small difference we can make in this community means the world to me.”

Champions 4 Children was founded by the Shanfelter family in late 2013, and was created “so that the biggest impact possible could be made to help children in the local and national community.”

The family, along with other founding members, wanted to bring their love of sports, as well as charitable endeavors for children, together.

Piatt said the Shanfelters are a big reason why he’s involved with the initiative.

“The Shanfelter family — Austin, Pam and Meghan (Akin), I’m very close with the family,” he said of how he got involved. “So, this goes back probably seven, eight years ago, talking with them about, ‘Let’s start something and see if we can build something.’ And they took the bull by the horns and I said I’m on board and I’ll help out any way I can and now it’s turned into this.”

His favorite part of the day?

“Just hanging out with the kids. Giving high fives and stuff. I love it. It brings you back and humbles you. It kind of sets you straight. It reminds you how lucky you are and the gifts you’ve been given. I have to pay it forward,” Piatt said.

Blessings in a Backpack SWFL provides food to more than 3,000 students in the region on Friday afternoons.

According to its website, there are 60,000 elementary students in Southwest Florida who struggle to get the nutrition they need over the weekend.

Each backpack includes ready-to-eat food items that are “kid friendly, healthy, lightweight, nonperishable and easy for children of all ages to carry and make themselves,” including chewy fruit snacks, dry cereal and granola, Pop-Tarts, drink mix packets, instant noodles and pasta, peanut butter, mac and cheese, rice and beans and instant potatoes.

Blessings in a Backpack serves 12 schools in Lee and Collier counties.

1995 NFL No.1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter was also part of the illustrious group of athletes, and said he could relate to what some of them may be going through.

“It hits home for me,” Carter said. “I was raised by a single mom who had to provide for me and my little brother. I had free lunch growing up. I thought that was something normal.

“Knowing how I came up and how important the free lunch is — I didn’t have money to go spend at the cafeteria. Things like this are very, very important. And obviously, having healthy nutrition is going to help these kids, too. So not only are you helping nourish them, but you’re helping educate them at the same time.”

Carter, like Piatt, has a strong bond with the Shanfelters. He and Akin also share the same alma mater in Penn State.

“Anything to give back. Even more special is the Shanfelters and what they do for the kids,” Carter said. “Now, obviously they’re our future and what they do to help encourage and motivate them to be better people and succeed in life — I’m always about it. They’re friends of mine so I didn’t hesitate to come out here and help out with this cause.”

His favorite aspect of being a part of Champions 4 Children is, of course, the kids.

“To see these little kids faces. You get to see some (old friends) and get to meet some of the former athletes. But then, coming out to see what the cause is really for — for these kids — makes you feel that you’re doing something positive,” said Carter.

Scott Fischer is the executive chair of Blessings in a Backpack, with John Nicolson also on the board of directors and a founding member.

For more information on Blessings in a Backpack SWFL, visit blessingsinswfl.org.

For more information on Champions 4 Children, visit championsforchildrenswfl.com.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj