ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Last year, Austin Gontarski, then a sixth grader at St. Patrick School, decided to use his Christmas money to purchase goods for the Backpack Food Program at Catholic Social …
ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Last year, Austin Gontarski, then a sixth grader at St. Patrick School, decided to use his Christmas money to purchase goods for the Backpack Food Program at Catholic Social Services.
“I just didn’t want to be selfish,” he said. “I just didn’t want to keep it all for myself.”
The son of Jennifer and Greg Gontarski of Loxley, Austin and his family have participated in the food program as members of St. Patrick’s Parish, but Austin decided he wanted to do more.
He took his Christmas money, went and purchased food for the program. Then he went around his neighborhood, going door to door collecting food and more money to purchase food.
In the end, he was able to deliver a truck and a car loaded with several hundred pounds of food, accumulating 1,726 meals and snacks for the backpack program, along with an additional 280 food units for families.
But he didn’t stop there. He decided to continue collecting for the program. And he has. In a big way.
As of Friday, Nov. 2, Gontarski, now a 12-year-old seventh grader at St. Patrick, has raised more than $8,500 for the program, along with 18,678 food items, including 9,531 dinners and lunches; 4,030 breakfast items, 3,218 snacks and 1,899 fruit items.
He has also inspired classmate Timmy Doerr, who has also collected 864 items for the backpack program.
“We are just so excited that this young man decided to use his resources for good in the community,” said Phyllis Beam, director of Catholic Social Services in Baldwin County. “It will certainly be put to good use.”
Beam said the items collected, along with other items collected by local civic groups and churches, will be delivered to local schools where it will be used, and stored for use throughout the year.
“Most of these items have a shelf life of up to a year,” she said, “so the items donated today will be able to be used for months to come.”
Through its Backpack Food Program, Catholic Social Services helps provide students with the nutrition they need beyond the schoolhouse.
Volunteers fill bags full of non-perishable canned and boxed food goods, along with a meal plan that students and their families can follow.
Gontarski said he will continue to collect money and goods throughout the coming year and beyond.
If you would like to donate to the Back Pack Program or for information on other services provided by Catholic Social Services, call 251-947-2293.