Aiden Kravitz wanted to help feed the world. He envisioned a program that would send money for food to a struggling foreign country. Then his mom suggested he keep the project local.
“I started to look for signs and didn’t have to look far,” said Kravitz, a 16-year-old incoming junior at Westhampton Beach High School. “It was evident that there are very needy families in the community of Westhampton Beach, which is known for being affluent.”
He turned to his own school district and discovered that more than a quarter of the elementary school students qualify for the federal free or reduced school lunch program.
“It was shocking to me,” said Kravitz, of Remsenberg. “I was overwhelmed by the number.”
With that information, Kravitz poured his energy into the Kentucky-based nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack, which focuses on helping children on the free or reduced lunch list, who may not have enough to eat on the weekends.
Nikki Grizzle, director of marketing and public relations for Blessings in a Backpack, said the organization’s mission was based on findings that students on the school lunch list were coming into school on Monday mornings hungry and lethargic.
“We found out it was because kids were hungry on the weekends,” she said. “They weren’t getting enough to eat.”
The program was founded in 2005 with two locations in Kentucky and now serves 461 communities around the country, she said. The program is run by local organizers who facilitate with the school, form a partnership with a grocery store, complete the food shopping and fill the backpacks each week.
Westhampton Beach will be the first community on Long Island to host the program, she said.
Michael Radday, superintendent of Westhampton Beach Schools, said Blessings in a Backpack is a great fit for the district, which has seen the number of students that qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program increase over the past five years.
This year, about 110 students will qualify, he said.
“He was looking for a way he could contribute,” Radday said of Kravitz. “He found this program and he’s done a tremendous job.”
With help from his family and some classmates, Kravitz has been fundraising throughout the summer to raise the roughly $10,000 he’ll need to send each eligible child home with food throughout the upcoming school year.
The program costs $80 per child, per school year.
He said when he first started fundraising through an email campaign during the spring, the money was slow-coming and the final figure seemed daunting. But after additional outreach and a charity ride at High Gear Cycling Studio, in Westhampton Beach, on Aug. 18, he has raised about $8,000.
He said he would like to surpass the original goal so he can maintain the program for at least three years -- his final two years at the high school, and then his younger brother Alex’s senior year.
“The family became involved because this is such a big project,” his mother, Joanne Kravitz, said. “It’s a tremendous undertaking, but I’m amazed at how passionate Aiden is about the program.”
The goal is to start the program at Westhampton Beach on Sept. 7.
Aiden Kravitz said the experience has been an eye-opener to the diversity, and also the generosity, of his community.
“It’s a lot of children and a lot of money,” he said. “But when people are willing to really help you, you can really make changes in these kids lives.”
Above: Aiden Kravitz, an incoming junior at Westhampton Beach High School, and his classmate, Molly Tucker, gather some of the types of food they will put in backpacks this fall to give away to elementary school students in their district that are on the free or reduced lunch list.