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The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

Sophomore Executive Committee gives back

Melissa Krainer
Helping out. Sophomores Marley Kelleher and Erinn Wertz help out in the community for the Sophomore Executive Committee.

The Sophomore Executive Committee performs community service and gives back to the Altoona community during the school year. Sophomores Marley Kelleher and Erinn Wertz are giving back by volunteering with the Mountain Lion Backpack program.

“It makes me happy knowing that I’m doing it for the kids in elementary schools,” Kelleher said. “I used to be the kid that received the backpacks. Remembering how happy I was receiving it just makes me happy knowing [I can give back].”

Kelleher went to Juniata Gap Elementary School and began receiving backpacks in second grade. Now, she helps to fill those backpacks.

“We go to Wright Elementary, and we get in pairs with anyone we choose,” Kelleher said. “Then we go down a line picking up the food, putting it in backpacks. I remember having a lot of fun making conversation.”

The program fills 1,140 backpacks every week, which is almost one-third of the elementary school population. David Aboud, the program manager of the Mountain Lion Backpack program, has worked with both Kelleher and Wertz.

“Communities don’t thrive if they don’t take care of each other. If everybody’s doing their own thing and doesn’t care about anybody else, you don’t have room to build,” Aboud said. “[Community service] should be started early. I tried to do a lot of public service when I had student council. We did things for different groups because I thought it was important for [students] to learn and to start doing those things so that as they get older, they would continue to do it. I just think that’s vital.”

The Mountain Lion Backpack program was started in 2011 by Heather and Jim Little who encountered a similar program in Ohio and wanted to bring it to Altoona. The program began with serving one elementary school, but it eventually expanded to encompass all elementary schools. Eventually, the high school got involved too.

“When Mrs. Burlingame was the principal [at the high school], she offered to have students here pack for Penn Lincoln,” Aboud said. “The backpack program would send the food that was necessary for the bags for Penn Lincoln here to the school, and then I would get volunteers. I would put out a message to teachers, ‘I need your help’, and I put down the dates of all the packing dates. I would ask some of them to come. If they would volunteer their class one period for the year to come down fourth or fifth period, depending on when I needed them, to get the food ready and then to pack. I would go with the community service students to take the food over to Penn Lincoln and distribute it to the classrooms.”

The ultimate goal of the Mountain Lion Back program is to expand to both the junior high and high school; however, the program doesn’t have enough funding yet.

“Even though it’s called the Mountain Lion Backpack Program, it’s not part of the school district. It’s not funded by the school. All the money is either from donations from businesses or individuals, grants or fundraisers and food donations that groups do for us,” Aboud said. “We’re continually having to restock all that and keep getting money. We’re more local, so it’s a little tougher. That’s why we can’t expand [yet].”

For Wertz, her experience with the program began in first grade when she started receiving backpacks at Ebner Elementary. Now, nine years later, she is giving back.

“It’s more important to kids nowadays because more families need the food,” Wertz said. “[Even] if you don’t fully need the food, it still helps out if kids are home on the weekends and they need snacks or they’re learning to even prepare or make their own food.”

Aboud believes that if people get involved in the community and help others, they will feel the benefits as well.

“I think it feels good knowing that I got it as a kid and being able to help the kids now,” Wertz said.

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About the Contributor
Melissa Krainer
Melissa Krainer, Reporter
Ciao! My name is Melissa Krainer, and this is my second year reporting for the Mountain Echo. I’m very excited to be a part of the staff this year as a sophomore! I’ve always been passionate about writing, and I can’t wait to help report on school and community events this year. In my free time, you might find me crocheting, reading, playing the violin or working on math puzzles. I speak both English and German fluently. This is one of my favorite quotes: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandhi

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