If the average person packed a bagged lunch each weekday for a year, they’d pack 260 bags in total. In contrast, 18-year-old Isobel Costello has packed almost 40 times that amount, totaling more than 10,000 bags of meals, as she works to end juvenile food insufficiency in her community.
As the founder of The Weekend Bag Program Inc., Isobel, a high school senior from Green Township, New Jersey, packs bags filled with lunches, snacks and hygiene essentials to last students through the weekend. Realizing that her peers didn’t have enough food or basics at home, the bags help to fill the gap while students aren’t receiving free or reduced lunches at school. Providing bags to elementary, middle and high school students across six schools in Sussex County, New Jersey, Isobel is helping to feed students in her community and is relieving stress for struggling families.
What inspires you to volunteer?
During freshman year of high school I’d hear chatter amongst kids that a lot of students were going home for the weekend with little to no food to eat, and not enough essential hygiene items. Some didn’t want to come to school because they didn’t feel comfortable, or didn’t feel clean. Others were excited to come to school because they knew they were guaranteed a meal. When I realized that even a couple of my friends were affected, I knew I had to do something to help. I am inspired to volunteer because this is an opportunity to both help these students and their families, and bring the community together as I raise awareness about food insufficiency.
Describe your role with The Weekend Bag Program Inc.
As founder and president of The Weekend Bag Program Inc., I spend about 20 hours each week monitoring communications, scheduling and hosting meetings, and packing and delivering the weekend bags. I pack 65 bags each week, and occasionally have community members and other students shop with me for supplies. I am also constantly fundraising and soliciting donations, as we rely on donations for our supplies.
What gets packed in a weekend bag?
Each weekend bag includes six meals, which equals out to two breakfast meals, two lunches and two dinners to cover a student’s meals on Saturday and Sunday. The bags include snacks like granola bars, and popcorn, drinks like water and juice boxes, and meal items including ramen noodles, canned soup, pasta and pasta sauce, mac and cheese. We also pack hygiene products like toilet paper, tissues, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant and body wash. I’ll pack the bags and then deliver them to liaisons we work with at each school who then in turn distribute the bags to our anonymous recipients.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Once, I was in a local grocery store shopping for my program when a female shopper came up to me, and without saying a word, hugged me. I had no clue who she was. She had a very close friend who was receiving our weekend bags. She explained how the assistance had impacted the entire family, because the extra food and items meant that the student’s mother could focus on bettering her situation instead of worrying about how to provide as much for her children. She started crying, which made me cry! (laughs).
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
What’s one way you hope to inspire others in your service?
I want to show people that no matter what they want to do, as long as they push for their idea and they’re patient, they can get it done.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
When Friday comes along, I get a few minutes to sit and re-evaluate and I think about those bags that went out and those families that now have items that they wouldn’t necessarily have without us. That is a good feeling, knowing that we are helping people.
What’s your perspective on food now that you’ve witnessed food insufficiency in your community?
I’m always grateful for whatever is put in front of me from my family. I’ve learned that nothing comes without having to work for it. When i sit down and use toilet paper, it is a constant reminder for me that because of this program, others have toilet paper as well. It’s a constant reminder that you should always be grateful for what you have.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned that you face a lot of “no’s” before you get a yes when it comes to volunteerism. That’s where my patience comes in. That “no” just means they’re not necessarily ready just yet.
How can readers help?
We are continuing to pack bags for students through the coronavirus pandemic, but we are in need of specific supplies. Please visit our Facebook page for more information about how you can help and visit our PayPal to donate to the cause.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Isobel Costello? Find local volunteer opportunities.