Area teen creates 'Weekend Bag Program'

May 20 2019 | 05:10 AM

    The “Weekend Bag Program” was created by Isobel Costello when she was a freshman in Newton High School.
    Now a Junior, she and her parents, Dawn and John, attend council and board of education meetings, as she promotes awareness and raises funds for the county-wide program.
    Recently, at the Ogdensburg Council meeting, May 13, Costello spoke of high school students not having enough food and basic hygiene products over weekends and looking forward to returning to school in order to receive school provided breakfast or lunches.
    Hearing this originally, Costello decided to ask her administration what they were doing about the problem. Unsatisfied with the answer, Costello said, she developed and has run the program for three years.
    She explained the Weekend Bag Program is totally anonymous — she does not know the kids or families. Instead, Costello works with a school liaison, who identifies students who would benefit from the program. Her mother then drops off 58 bags at six schools on Wednesdays, and the liaison distributes the bags.
    Costello showed the council what typically comes in a bag: two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, two snacks, two drinks, canned veggies and fruit. She explained how she tries to choose easy foods for kids to make at home, given they are elementary and middle school kids, who might be without a parent or guardian for the majority of time on weekends.
    Furthermore, Costello said, she now partners with a non-profit children’s foundation called Sojihuggles Children Foundation, who helps her obtain funding; and a farm started donating fresh apples and produce to the bags. For two weeks, she said, she was able to give fresh apples to the kids in all the schools.
    She always tries to include, Costello said, at least three hygiene items in each bag, like tissues every week, toilet paper, big bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.
    Each weekend, she added, she and her two little sisters prepare items for the bags.
    A Newton Board of Education member, she said, was able to get 500 toothbrushes donated from the school’s healthcare provider.
    The program costs about $3,000 a month, Costello said, so it is $30,000 for the school year, with the current six schools. Costello said she has more schools within the county who would like to be part of the program. Due to limited funds, she said, she usually caps the number at 15 kids per school. Over the summer, she continued, she will be fundraising and has been meeting with local and international businesses, along with receiving help already from other businesses in the county.
    ThorLabs donated 200 bags and monetary donations.
    Costello said, the Ogdensburg school has been so supportive. With Ogdensburg alone, she said, the program has donated around $20,000 in product over three years.
    People can contact them at: theweekendbagprogram@yahoo.com, and they have a Facebook page: the weekend bag program. Furthermore, she has a link, or page, on the Sojihuggles website where people can donate. Monetary donations and gift cards are preferred in order to stretch out the donations and give similar items in all the bags. Usually, each bag costs no more than $10 each.
    Dawn said they spend six or seven hours every week at ShopRite closing it.
    Costello added, “It’s a lot of fun. We know everyone at ShopRite.”
    They are also looking for anyone with connections to storage spaces, Costello said, which are climate- controlled and pest free because the program is growing, and she is running it out of her basement.
    Additionally, she is working with the Newton Athletic Director to make the program into an official school club, so when she leaves high school next year, it will be sustainable. Once the project is recognized and running smoothly, she said, she will reach out to all the schools which have adopted the program, and other county high schools, in order to begin school clubs.
    Mayor George Hutnick recommended she attend Ogdensburg Day, Sept. 7, to promote the program.
    Councilman David Astor said he is working for her to speak with the Ogdensburg students. He added, Costello has given approximately $100K, has already done a lifetime of work, “and once again – a Junior in high school.”
    Fire Chief Rick Keslo said the fire department has many fundraisers they can help her attend. In addition, they would take information back to the fire department county association, which has 27 departments in the county.
    Councilwoman Brenda O’Dell said she works for Atantic Health, who is always looking for something to help which is not the norm.
    At the end of her presentation, Ogdensburg Council members placed individual cash donations in Costello’s hand.