Special to EagleHerald/Val Ihde
From left: Maggie Faccio, Kat Zabronsky, Kim Mech, Buffy Gignac, Stacy Sebero and Adam Walker assemble bags of food for the Backpack program Thursday at Johnson Controls, Inc., in Marinette. The bags will be distributed to students who need them after school today.
Special to EagleHerald/Val Ihde

From left: Maggie Faccio, Kat Zabronsky, Kim Mech, Buffy Gignac, Stacy Sebero and Adam Walker assemble bags of food for the Backpack program Thursday at Johnson Controls, Inc., in Marinette. The bags will be distributed to students who need them after school today.

MARINETTE — Johnson Controls, Inc.’s Backpack program is entering its fourth year this year.

Adam Menor of JCI said the project began with a group of Tyco employees in 2016. “They became aware of the need for nourishing foods to sustain children in need on the weekends when the free or reduced lunches aren’t available,” he said.

“When the kids go home for the weekend, then what?” said Jim Cox, senior manager of marketing communications for Tyco, “That’s what the backpack program does; we assemble a two-meal package with two breakfasts and two lunches, and we take those to the schools where the guidance counselor generally hands them out to the kids in need. It’s really to support the kids when they go home for the weekend.”

Menor said they originally started off by serving Marinette Middle School. With help from Winsert Inc., they’re now offer the program at five schools: Marinette Middle School, Park Elementary, Garfield Elementary, Merryman Elementary and Central Elementary in Menominee.

He said Tyco employees either donate food purchased at local grocery stores or make a monetary donation to the program, which would then be used by volunteers to buy food. Cox said the food was initially put into backpacks, giving the program its name, which were distributed to the kids and returned to be refilled. However, he said that the backpacks weren’t always returned, so they switched to using plastic shopping bags.

“Recently, the Johnson Controls Foundation became aware of the program in Marinette, and they’ve supported the program through a $15,000 grant, so we’re looking to enhance the program through the use of that grant,” Menor said.

He also said, in addition to this grant, the Milwaukee Bucks also became aware of the program, and donated $6,200 to the program recently.

As the program grows, Menor said they’ve decided to partner with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Menominee and Marinette. “We’ve partnered with them for two primary reasons. One is to be able to leverage the 501(c)(3) status of St. Vincent de Paul to be able to apply for grants like this and also look at additional grants, and also to increase the impact of those donations by purchasing food at a reduced price, using the connections St. Vincent de Paul have with their food pantries with some food suppliers to make the dollars go further and service more kids,” he said.