The Brookfield Backpack Charitable Foundation is a well-oiled machine, said administrator Tracy Plyler.
The foundation, which provides food to 43 Brookfield Elementary School students each week, is on decent footing financially and has not lacked for volunteer helpers. Many school and community groups volunteer the same month every year to pack bags with food.
However, Plyler is ready to move on. Her job as a certified public accountant has become more demanding, and she wants to do other charitable work through her church.
That means, Plyler is looking to have someone take over the foundation and keep the food coming.
“Nobody wants it to end, and I certainly don’t, either,” the Brookfield woman said. “It’s just become a lot. I want to focus on some other, different types of missions.”
The program was created nine years ago, an outgrowth of volunteer work Plyler had done for the Sharon backpack program through her church, First Presbyterian Church of Sharon. Her pastor encouraged her to branch out, and she approached then-Brookfield school Supt. Tim Saxton with the idea of creating a Brookfield backpack program. The first students received food in 2015.
Plyler had a board in creating the foundation through the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, and setting up fundraising, purchasing food, packing the food and getting it to the school for distribution. That board consisted of Plyler, Joy Lay, Cathy Schatzel and Stefanie Bych.
“The original backpack committee was made up of four working moms, who all had children in the district at the time of inception,” said Plyler, whose youngest child, Sam, graduates in May. “We all wanted to show through leadership the value of charitable giving through service in addition to helping those vulnerable children in the school system. All of their kids have graduated from Brookfield and some from college in the nine years since we started.”
The group worked out of Brookfield United Methodist Church until moving to the school in 2019. It still maintains a relationship with the church to manage its finances.
The school had a room set aside for the program until this school year, when that room became a classroom. That meant Plyler had no place to store food. She now buys it the day of packing, or the day before, the boxes of cereal, snacks and drinks taking up every possible space in the back of her minivan.
Plyler’s original helpers fell away as their kids got older, their personal situations changed and the amount of work lessened. Plyler now works alone, responsible for ordering food, picking it up, arranging volunteers, overseeing the packing, paying the bills and filing the necessary paperwork.
The foundation has not held a fundraiser since 2019, and it should have been holding them all long, she said, but organizing one takes a lot of work, and she hasn’t had the time to put into such an effort.
“There needs to be a longer-term solution,” Plyler said. “This is difficult to do. I just didn’t want to lay out a new plan when someone else might be coming in. They’re gonna want to tailor it.”
Plyler, who said she will spend about $6,700 this year to run the program, intends to carry on until the end of this school year, and hand the program over to someone else over the summer. There are a lot of details involved in such a transition, such as familiarizing the person with the the requirements of running a non-profit corporation, and the guidelines of the Community Foundation.
Whoever takes over the program, Plyler hopes they keep students involved.
“Part of the reason why I wanted to do this is I wanted the kids to be my volunteers,” she said. “I wanted to teach them a sense of community. By doing that, by being a leader, then maybe as they grow up they’ll be more likely to do that themselves.”
Anyone interested in taking over the program or learning what would be involved can contact Plyler at 330-719-5964 or at firstname.lastname@example.org