Ready to start the auction

Beth Sherman, LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce executive director, gets ready to start the auction at Wednesday night Power of the Purse event held in Shipshewana.

SHIPSHEWANA — Two organizations saw their pocketbooks filled to the top Wednesday night with the 10th annual Power of the Purse event.

Those two organizations provided food for children on weekends when school is not in session.

Sponsored by the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce, the annual event raises money for Blessing in a Backpack and Boomerang Backpack, organizations.

Studies have shown that one in seven children go hungry when school closes their doors for the weekend. Both programs fill backpacks with small food items like crackers and canned meats and send them home with children identified as at risk of hunger. Those foods allow children to feed themselves over those two days away from school.

Power of the Purse raises money by first selling tickets for seats or tables. Those people bid on purses and wallets donated to the chamber by local individuals or businesses during a live auction. Proceeds raised during the night are donated to fund the two school feeding programs.

Michelle Campbell, a local spokesperson for Blessing in a Backpack, said her program, like Boomerang Backpack, sends home a wide array of individually sized food items like canned fruit and peanut butter, which children can eat. She said the support provided by Power of the Purse has allowed Blessings in a Backpack to grow and serve even more area students in need.

“This support has allowed us to almost triple the number of children that we serve locally, and add additional food items as well,” she explained. “This kind of support is critical, the difference between being able to do this and not.”

In just the last 18 months, Campbell said Blessings has sent home more than 700 pounds of oatmeal with area students, 7,000 packets of cheese crackers, 7,000 granola bars, 210 pounds of peanut butter and 2 tons of canned ravioli.

Jill Kinder, a representative for Boomerang Backpack, an organization created by an East Noble teacher more than 10 years ago, told the crowd of more than 300 that one in seven children go hungry each weekend without the support of such programs like hers.

“We’ve noticed that overall, 50 to 60 percent of the children in schools that we serve are on free or reduced price lunches,” Kinder explained. “The money that’s raised today is a very large percentage of the money we get for the school year, so this is phenomenal.”

Dozens of donated purses and handbags lined the front of the stage at the Blue Gate Performing Arts Center in Shipshewana, ready to be auctioned off.

Last year, the event raised nearly $38,000. That money was divided among the three LaGrange County school corporations to fund school-sponsored weekend feeding programs.

Westview and Prairie Heights schools participate in the Boomerang Backpack program and Lakeland has partnered with Blessing in a Backpack.

LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Beth Sherman said Wednesday night’s event was a great success.

“The money raised is still coming in,” she explained. “But the success of the event is not just the money raised, but the awareness it brings to the problem.”

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