FREDERICK -- Last month, Ballenger Creek Middle eighth grader Jackson LeBlanc, dressed in his tan Boy Scouts uniform, arrived at Baltimore Coffee & Tea in Frederick and awaited an important visitor.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan would be there, greeting Frederick County residents who have made a difference in their community.
Jackson definitely qualifies.
Focused on community service, Jackson is a willing organizer. He assists those in need whenever he can.
This brings us to why Jackson earned a meeting with the Gov. Hogan. Jackson is the driving force behind Ballenger Creek Middle’s Backpack Buddies program. The program supports Blessings in a Backpack, which provides weekend backpacks of food to children who would otherwise go hungry.
Backpack Buddies helps the Frederick chapter of Blessings in a Backpack gather nonperishable food. And Jackson can rattle off a list of desired nonperishables: canned tuna fish, ravioli, boxes of macaroni and cheese and kidney beans.
“I’ve learned a lot of kids go hungry on the weekends,” Jackson said. “This gives them the opportunity to have what they need. It can really help.”
Gov. Hogan gave Jackson a medal for the initiative and listened as Jackson explained how the program assists students.
Jackson started the Backpack Buddies program at Ballenger Creek Middle to assist students in need who attend nearby Orchard Grove Elementary. You can see signs of progress throughout the school.
In the front office, boxes of macaroni and cheese and kidney beans are stacked on top of a shelf. In the cafeteria, a laminated Backpack Buddies promotional poster is posted on a back wall just behind where students gather daily for lunch. In the hallways, Jackson and his friends have created promotional posters for the initiative.
“Be a Superhero. Donate food,” is the message on one poster taped above lockers.
“We are so thrilled for Jackson and will be supporting him 100 percent in his efforts,” Ballenger Creek Middle principal Mita Badshah said.
The school is leading a food drive this month and is accepting nonperishable goods. For the second consecutive year, Jackson will be promoting awareness for the initiative at the Cupcake Run 5k at Monocacy Village Park April 17.
A portion of the net proceeds goes to Blessings In a Backpack. Jackson plans on running.
And he’s not stopping there.
After departing Ballenger Creek Middle later this year, he plans on starting a Backpack Buddies program at Tuscarora High. He is also helping kick-start Backpack Buddies programs at other FCPS schools. Backpack Buddies is going national this summer.
When Jackson leaves Ballenger Creek Middle, the program will continue. He is prepping sixth grader Conner Hughes to lead the initiative for the next two years.
Backpack Buddies is extra work for a middle school student with a busy schedule. But he says it’s a project definitely worth continuing. He believes community service is important.
“I always like to help people,” Jackson said.
-- Brandon Oland