The nonprofit Weekend Backpacks is raising money with a four-part virtual food demonstration series to feed Baltimore children and their families experiencing food insecurity. Image courtesy of Weekend Backpacks.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the ongoing issue of food insecurity for many Baltimore families, but a local nonprofit is raising funds to feed children in need.

Weekend Backpacks, a nonprofit organization that provides weekend meals to food-insecure children, went from providing an average of 630 bags of food per week before the pandemic to more than 1,000 bags per week during the pandemic, said board member Barbara Spector.

For the past several years, Weekend Backpacks has held an annual fundraiser event where attendees were able to taste samples from food vendors, with the event in 2019 raising about $250,000, Spector said.

But Spector said holding an in-person event this year would not be safe due to COVID-19.

“It was unthinkable to have an event with 500 people in 2021, but we wanted to make sure that we worked on some fundraisers,” she said.

So, Weekend Backpacks came up with the idea for a four-part virtual series where local chefs would teach people how to make different recipes at home over a Zoom video.

Jason Austin, beverage director at Linwood’s, (pictured) and Steve Wecker, beverage director at Cured and 18th & 21st, will give step-by-step demonstrations of how to create four specialty cocktails during a virtual event on March 21. Photo courtesy of Jason Austin.
Jason Austin, beverage director at Linwood’s, (pictured) and Steve Wecker, beverage director at Cured and 18th & 21st, will give step-by-step demonstrations of how to create four specialty cocktails during a virtual event on March 21. Photo courtesy of Jason Austin.

Weekend Backpacks will kick off its Chefs’ Event Reimagined series with its first event, “Mixology 101: Dueling Bartenders,” on March 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. (EST).

Justin Austin, beverage director at Linwood’s, and Steve Wecker, beverage director at Cured and 18th & 21st, will give step-by-step demonstrations of how to create four specialty cocktails.

By making a minimum donation of $45, people will gain access to the virtual demonstration over Zoom as well as ingredients they will need to follow along with the recipes.

Viewers will have to supply their own alcohol for the mixology event, but they will receive other supplies, like mason jars and agave nectar, after making their donation.

To tune into the mixology demonstration, Spector said people should register by March 15. Non-alcoholic ingredients will be available for pickup through March 20.

People can donate $45 to virtually attend one event or $160 to get access to all four at a discounted rate.

Participants will be able to make and enjoy some recipes in real-time while other recipes, like how to make infused vodka, will be best served after being left to permeate for some additional time “outside of class,” Spector said.

In addition to this month’s mixology demonstration, the series will also include three other events throughout the year, including a family-friendly, cupcake-decorating event on May 16 with advice from Jason Hisley, owner of the Lutherville-Timonium bakery “cake by Jason Hisley”; a barbecue and brew demonstration on June 27; and an artisanal breadmaking workshop on September 26.

In addition to making a monetary donation, Spector said people can also volunteer their time with Weekend Backpacks.

The nonprofit’s approximately 300 volunteers help assemble and deliver bags of food, including fruits, vegetables, proteins, milk, cereal and other items, for children in need.

Weekend Backpacks collaborates with the Maryland Food Bank and other food sources in the Baltimore area to arrange food donations, and any items that the nonprofit does not use are delivered to school food banks, Spector said.

“Nothing goes to waste,” she said.

Normally, Baltimore City students have access to meals at school buildings during the week. Weekend Backpacks delivers food bags to schools for children to pick up from their guidance counselor’s office on Fridays to makes sure they are fed over the weekends when school is not in session, Spector said.

Weekend Backpacks increases the amount of food in the bags weekly as families’ funds for food decrease as the month progresses, and additional food is also added for extended weekends.

During the pandemic, Weekend Backpacks has worked with schools and community centers to make sure students continue to have access to nutritious meals, Spector said.

“When schools were closed due to the ongoing safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, the need was greater than ever as thousands of children were left without access to their main source of food,” Weekend Backpacks founder Sandie Nagel said in a statement. “Children cannot learn and develop when their days start and end with the pangs of food insecurity.”

While schools are beginning to reopen, Nagel said Weekend Backpacks and similar organizations “still have a long way to go in order to reach every child in the capacity that’s needed today.”

The nonprofit wanted to organize seasonal events – cupcakes around Mother’s Day, barbeque at summertime, and breadmaking as people head into fall – that could reach donors throughout the year, Spector said.

Spector hopes the series will remind potential donors that food insecurity is a year-round issue in need of year-round support.

“Even in the best of times, it’s not something that goes away,” she said.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...