When Palmetto High School senior Nathan Wasserman learned about the Blessings in a Backpack program, he wanted to get involved.
So, he and a friend and his parents got things going. Now, every six weeks they pack up 500 bags with food to be given to free-lunch students at Palmetto Elementary School. The bags are mostly filled with non-perishable foods such as cereal, trail mix, soup, ravioli, power bars, orange juice and peanut butter crackers. The food ensures those students will not go hungry on the weekend. “That was the school we went to,” Wasserman says. “We were surprised that all the kids at Palmetto Elementary needed help.”
At first, they made up 40 food bags a week. Now, they give food to about 70 students each week.
“It has been growing every year,” Wasserman says. “Originally, not everyone who was eligible did it.”
Most of the volunteers come from Palmetto Middle School. Students from Palmetto High and Coral Reef High also pitch in.
“This year Fresh Market sponsored us,” Wasserman says. “They gave us fresh fruit this year.”
To raise the money needed for the food, Wasserman and his friends hold bake sales and other events.
“We’ve had two to three bake sales,” he says. “We had more than one at Temple Beth Am.”
They also had a fundraiser at a law firm. After they spoke about Blessings in a Backpack, those attending gave generously. While most donations go to purchasing food, they have used some to buy Christmas gifts for each child in the program.
Wasserman is also an athlete and a coach. Along with a friend, he coaches basketball in the Beth Am Basketball League. He played eight seasons in the league before trying coaching. The first season he coached sixth and seventh graders and the second season the kids were in fifth and sixth grades.
“Pretty much all the coaches are adult,” he says. “I want to do it again next year. I like coaching more than playing.”
One of his teams went 10-2 in the regular season and made the final four teams and lost to a team they had beaten before.
Wasserman runs track for Palmetto, competing in the 400 and 800. He won every race he ran in in the 800 and ended the year ranked 11th overall in his district.
Each year that he has run, he has improved his times. His goal is to run track in college. He has not started talking to schools yet as he works to shave a second or two off of his times in order to match the standards for college track. His goal is attainable as in the past year he has improved his time in the 400 by five seconds and by 14 seconds in the 800. He was given the MVP award at the Track and Field banquet and will be a captain again next year.
Wasserman wants to be a cardiologist, so he is considering a major in science when he goes to college; or science with a business aspect, such as global health. He says he will likely apply to Penn, Duke and Vanderbilt.
At Palmetto, Wasserman is vice president of tutoring for the Science National Honor Society. He participates in science competitions, including the Lexus Eco Challenge. He’s currently in the Innovate to Mitigate contest. He will learn this month if his unconventional idea to reverse climate change is a winner. He is in the final round of that contest and in the last school year he won the Junior Science Award for being the top science student.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld