Blessings in a Backpack: 10 years of giving back

Center Grove program continues to provide food and hope to the community

By Todd Travis

Philanthropy Fridays evolves into so much more

When Chris Hickey’s children were in middle school, she started a tradition called “Philanthropy Fridays.” The goal was to help her kids and their friends find ways to help in the community and feel like they were empowered to help in ways that they invented. “They learned about how they can be of help, even in a small way in their community and all the needs that are out there,” Hickey described. “My son and his friends and my daughter and her friends would get together on Fridays for lunch and talk about where they found passion and what ways they were drawn to help people. Since it was something they did with their friends and got to choose for themselves, they looked forward to it.”

A group of volunteers at the care pantry. (Photos submitted by Chris Hickey)

The projects they chose included visiting children at the Wheeler Mission Center for Women & Children and making military care packages to collecting canned goods and fundraising using their own artwork at coffee shops. “They would go door-to-door in the hot summers collecting cans in the neighborhood. Some people didn’t have cans, so they gave cash and the kids researched where they could go to get the biggest bang for their buck in canned goods. They ended up filling up a whole pickup truck’s worth of canned goods,” Hickey recalled. “The artwork they sold ended up being, I would call it, the first seed money for Blessings in a Backpack because each of the paintings were being sold for the cost it was to feed a child for a year.”

Introducing Blessings to Center Grove

Around the time her children were in high school, Hickey researched Blessings in a Backpack, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that allows people to start grass roots in their own town. “I was able to get into a meeting with Rich Arkanoff (superintendent of the Center Grove Community School Corporation), where I asked to bring the program to Center Grove. I said, ‘I would commit to being the program coordinator, which is a three- to five-year commitment, and I would do all the fundraising.’ I just needed permission from the school, and I also asked to use the care pantry to store the food.” Hickey said. “I wanted to use high school young adults to volunteer and help stuff the bags.”

A group of volunteers dedicates their Thursdays to the CG Blessings program. Pictured are Dan Hickey, Chris Hickey, Angie Sodrel, Angie Schoolcraft and Lauren Cram. Not pictured: Joyce Peters and Dave Henry.

The program was met with overwhelming support. “We started with just one school and now we do all six elementary schools,” she said. “I used to get calls from schools asking to pick up money that bus drivers or lunch ladies had left because they want to support the program.” This is now the 10th year running for Blessings in a Backpack. “At this point, all I do is shoot an e-mail to the teachers that are part of all the groups like choir, track, cross country, football, National Honor Society, tennis, wrestling, robotics, etc. and they will just say what days they’re going to take. Some groups take full months because there are so many students involved and helping,” Hickey mentioned.

Chris Hickey, second from left, with son, Chase, left, husband, Dan and daughter, Taylor. (Photos submitted by Chris Hickey

It takes a village

Hickey’s had high school volunteers tell her that they actually received the food when they were in elementary school and how it impacted their life. The team effort is key to Blessings in a Backpack’s success. “This Blessings program has flourished because of every single person who has shown up, said ‘yes’, packed a bag, given a donation, and cared for these children for the last 10 years. They don’t even know the impact they have had. It is far greater than the food; it is the love shown through these gifts. In times where it seems people have forgotten about humanity, it is alive and well in Center Grove. Thank you,” Hickey stated.

To learn more or to donate to the program, go to and find the Center Grove program by searching Center Grove Schools Greenwood, IN, or send a check to: Christine Hayes Hickey, Esq., Rubin & Levin, PC, 135 N Pennsylvania St., Suite 1400, Indianapolis IN 46204.