Grand Rapids, MI (August 17, 2017) - Children who qualify for free or reduced rate school lunches during the week need healthy food during the weekend too. The Junior League of Grand Rapids and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids announce the launch of their new partnership that fills this gap: Backpack Buddies. The Backpack Buddies initiative provides nutritious meals for students in need over the weekend, when food may not be available at home. The YMCA and volunteers from the Junior League prepare and deliver free take-home meals on Fridays for students who receive school lunches for free or at a reduced rate at the River City Scholars Charter Academy, a free public charter school on Grand Rapids’ southeast side. The YMCA’s food service program strategically sources nutritious foods from local farmers and food distributors, which it provides to the Junior League at a low cost for Junior League volunteers to deliver to the students.

“We are proud to develop this innovative partnership for children who need healthy meals over the weekends,” said Kate McCarthy, President of the Junior League of Grand Rapids. “Improving children’s physical health in our community is our number one focus,” she explains of the League’s mission, “and children cannot thrive without having reliable meals throughout the entire week.” The Backpack Buddies program serves 15-25 elementary school students each week and will provide over 600 meals during the 2017-2018 school year. These students attend the YMCA’s after school program at River City Scholars Charter Academy, where 100% of the children receive school lunch for free or at a reduced rate. The funding for Backpack Buddies comes from money raised by the Junior League, a women’s volunteer organization whose Grand Rapids chapter focuses on raising funds and developing programs to improve children’s physical health. With additional fundraising, the Junior League hopes to expand Backpack Buddies in the future to reach even more students in the Grand Rapids area.

“Without the help of the Junior League of Grand Rapids,” stated Johnathan Pope, District Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, “the YMCA would not be able to provide meals to children over the weekend. This funding fills an important gap.”




Junior League of Grand Rapids
Since 1925, the Junior League of Grand Rapids has served the community by training women in nonprofit leadership, and it now focuses specifically on programs that improve children’s physical health. In addition to Backpack Buddies, the Junior League runs two other local programs that support children’s physical health: Kids in the Kitchen and Wellness Adventure Yards. Through Kids in the Kitchen, trained Junior League volunteers educate children and families in Grand Rapids area schools about fitness and healthy eating. The Junior League’s Wellness Adventure Yards are innovative playgrounds that the League fundraises for and builds to serve specific populations and locations in need. Its inaugural Wellness Adventure Yard debuted in 2014 at the YWCA Domestic Crisis Center, now called the YWCA Wege Sojourner House, and it plans to cut the ribbon at its second Wellness Adventure Yard this coming September at the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center, an urban public charter elementary school. For more information about the Junior League, visit


YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids
The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids strengthens communities through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Through its six branch locations - as well as YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin, community outreach programs, and child care sites - the YMCA is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of children and families. Its local programs impact thousands of lives annually and respond to unique community needs across West Michigan. For more information about the YMCA, visit


River City Scholars Charter Academy
Founded on academic excellence, moral focus, parental partnership, and student responsibility, River City Scholars Charter Academy is a free Grand Rapids public charter school serving young-5 kindergarten students through 8th grade. To learn more, visit