For more than a year now, Palmer Trinity senior Samantha Waldman has been making sure that elementary school children have food to eat on weekends.
How? Waldman started a club at Palmer called Blessings in a Backpack.
“We pack 100 backpacks every other week for 50 kids,” she says. “They are students on free and reduced lunch at Pine Villa Elementary.”
Each bag is filled with six items, a can of ravioli, graham crackers, a pudding, applesauce, a granola bar and a little box of cereal.
She learned about the program from a friend who is involved in the program at Ransom Everglades. She researched the organization and then created the club at school. It costs $80 to feed a child for a year.
“We have to fundraise and my parents helped,” she says. “You have to put a down payment. In order to start, you have to do a mandatory three years.”
Her parents put up the initial funding. Since then, they have been able to raise enough money to pay most of that money back.
She’s met some of the children she is helping. Last winter break they went to the school to do a holiday function with the kids.
“We went to do a craft with the students and brought cake,” she says. “That was the first time I met them.”
The children were in first grade then, now they are second graders.
“The principal picked that grade and those classes. We started with 50 because that is what the baseline is. If the club expands, we can feed more children,” she says.
They buy the food from the grocery store, patronizing the stores that are in partnership with the organization. Sometimes, the grocery store employees will alert Waldman’s mom about sales on the staple items.
Her mom also delivers the bags because Waldman usually has practice after school. She plays basketball and lacrosse for Palmer.
She sat out a few basketball games this season because of an injury, but until then she was having a good season. She’s a terrific player and has broken several school records – two in her freshmen year and one last year. She now holds the records for most blocks in a season, most rebounds in a season and the most blocks in a game.
She plays defense on the lacrosse team – which she says has potential. Last year they won districts and went to the regional quarterfinals.
Although she loves sports, she’s not planning to play in college because she wants to focus on academics. Her goal is to go into medicine.
“I’m leaning towards dermatology,” she says.
She’s applied to William and Mary, the University of Virginia, Emory and the University of Miami.
At Palmer Trinity, she is a peer counselor so she works with students who need help with issues such as the transition to seventh grade or bullying.
“If there are students that are struggling or in fights with each other and they go the guidance counselors. And she calls us in,” Waldman says. “I do really like it. I like to help other people. I think respect is really important.”
She is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta.
Outside of school, she’s an assistant Sunday school teacher at Temple Judea.
“I’ve helped them learn Hebrew how to read it and then we study stories from the Torah,” she says.
I’ve taught first, second, third and fifth. It was the same kids in three different grades.”
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld