Stepping Up to Help Students

Stepping Up to Help Students
Posted on 01/19/2023
Karen BudrakeyStudents in need within the Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District have a variety of services available to support their studies. One of those programs is the district’s Backpack Program, which has been run by District Social Worker Karen Budrakey for the past 10 years.

Every Friday, backpacks are prepared for elementary school students to take home meals to make sure they have enough food for the weekend ahead. The program, which is 100% donation-based and is helping about 25 students this year, has become a passion project for Mrs. Budrakey.

“No student should have to spend their weekend worrying about when their next meal will be,” said Mrs. Budrakey. “When our students are in school, we can provide them with free breakfast and lunch. I don’t want them thinking we’re not focused on helping them just because they’re not in school on a certain day.”
Items included in backpack program meals

Donations to the Backpack Program come from the Waterford community and organizations including the Waterford-Halfmoon Parent Teacher Organization, St. Mary’s Church, the Waterford Lions Club, Elks Lodge 1317, and the Waterford Woman’s Club. On top of the weekly food distributions, Mrs. Budrakey also distributes toiletries and hygiene products about four times per year and gives out school supplies to students at the beginning of each semester. The giving doesn’t stop there.
“We send home forms at the beginning of every school year to parents. If a child needs a winter coat or clothing, anything, we will work towards finding a way to provide it,” said Mrs. Budrakey.
The Elementary School has also incorporated a new “Sharing is Caring” bin in the cafeteria that provides students an opportunity to give back to their classmates. The bin gives students a place to drop any new and unopened lunch items that they didn’t eat. Those items are then delivered to Mrs. Budrakey’s office to be included in backpacks that are sent home or given out as midday snacks if any student gets hungry.
“The Sharing Is Caring bins are helping us reduce the stigma around food insecurity and not being wasteful with leftovers,” said Mrs. Budrakey. “The bins are helping students realize that anyone could need help at some point, and this provides an opportunity to help their classmates or themselves with an opportunity to save the food for when they need it later.”
The Backpack Program is also working with the High School’s Career Development and Occupational Studies class each week. Life Skills students are practicing their grocery shopping each week, so they take on the challenge of completing the orders for the Backpack Program at Price Chopper or Walmart. The Life Skills students then organize each backpack, filling it with the appropriate meals, and deliver them to their respective classrooms.
“It’s wonderful to have students helping students,” said Mrs. Budrakey. “Our Life Skills students are learning valuable skills that they can use on a daily basis, and taking what they’re working on in the classroom out into the real world.”
A look inside the backpack program storage room

Though the Backpack Program is available only to elementary school students, junior and senior high school students have a support system in place through Anthony’s Kindness Closet. The closet is run on a per-need basis, and allows students to request items to help them through the day, or help them for hours spent away from school.
Mrs. Budrakey also organizes the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce Chamber Angels program, which helps students receive gifts and support during the holiday season. This year, she helped 45 students in the district, with donations coming from the entire community and the region as a whole. The Waterford-Halfmoon Parent Teacher Organization also played a major role in helping families in need during the holidays to go along with the work they do year round for the Backpack Program.
The program has become something Mrs. Budrakey largely takes on herself, though teachers and staff throughout the district routinely lend a helping hand. While the work never ends, she feels giving back to her community and her students is what is most important.
“It’s all about the kids. I want to make sure I’m helping support them in every way possible.”
Anyone who wishes to donate to support the Backpack Program or Anthony’s Kindness Closet, you can contact Mrs. Budrakey directly a [email protected], or make a check payable to the Waterford-Halfmoon PTO and designate it for the Backpack Program.