Church gets head start on Luke’s Backpack program

Last year, volunteers for Luke's Backpack put together around 72 bags a week for Shenandoah County Public School children and their families out of the Mt. Zion Lutheran Church central campus location. Photo courtesy of Leslie Heird

Mt. Zion Lutheran Church in Woodstock is going the extra mile when it comes to community support for children and families in need.

On Sunday, members will be gathering contributions in a wagon from area neighborhoods for their Luke’s Backpack initiative.

Last year, Luke’s Backpack sent 8,033 bags full of 48,198 meals for Shenandoah schoolchildren and their families over the course of the school year. This past summer, volunteers distributed 888 meals in 148 bags. Each bag provides a child and his or her family with meals, drinks and snacks for the weekend.

“We take them as they come. We’ve been very blessed to never have to need to turn a child down,” said Leslie Heird, program director. “When the need is there, thankfully we’ve been able to meet it.”

Of the weekly average of 225 bags, around 72 came from packing efforts based out of Mt. Zion for the county’s middle campus of schools. Other packing sites in the county include St. Paul Lutheran Church for the northern campus and Ashby Lee Elementary School for the southern campus.

The number of bags going out weekly has increased from year to year: 160 bags went out weekly in the 2013-2014 year and Heird anticipates even more recipients and bags this year.

Judy Reynolds, Mt. Zion church council president, said volunteers are sometimes shocked to discover the number of needy children and families in Shenandoah County.

“It’s amazing to think that that many children would qualify,” she said. “We think of children in Africa not being fed, but it’s right in our area.”

The collection event is Mt. Zion’s way of participating in the “God’s work. Our hands” Sunday outreach initiative that Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations take part in. Each year, member churches dedicate a day of service to their local communities and neighborhoods.

Mt. Zion has participated in a different outreach program for the dedicated service day each year, and Reynolds said they used this year as an opportunity to further their support for Luke’s Backpack.

“Last year for the service day, we went together with some other churches and we did some backpacks for the homeless,” she said.

While Reynolds said Mt. Zion has an admittedly older congregation, they wanted to help out to whatever extent they could. Members had set up several boxes in locations around the community to begin collection even earlier on.

“Painting and carpentry work is a little bit beyond us, but we wanted to participate in a project for the community because that is what that day of service is all about,” she said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools opened on Tuesday, so Luke’s Backpack permission slips haven’t gotten back from the students through the schools yet. Heird anticipates that Shenandoah Valley Lutheran Ministries will receive them within the next week or so, and the packing process will be primed by the donations Mt. Zion will have collected.

“We feel very blessed by our community as a whole and we are just extremely thankful to Mt. Zion for doing this for us,” she said. “They are very dear to our hearts because they have opened up their church to let us use that as a packing site.”

Find out more about the program at

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or