NEWTON, NJ — While most high school juniors are consumed with classes, classes, tests, activities, graduation and college, one Newton students is also thinking about helping others.

In many ways Isobel Costello is a typical 11th grade student but her Weekend Bag Program is anything but typical.

Two years ago as a freshman, Isobel Costello created a program, now known as The Weekend Bag Program hoping to helping her peers who were going home and worrying about not having enough food or hygiene products to last them through the weekend.

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Costello connected with a nonprofit organization called Connect For Community or CFC located in Sparta, which provides food and much needed hygiene products to over 40 food pantries, domestic abuse centers, shelters, and soup kitchens throughout Sussex County, and came up with the idea to present to the president.

“She told me to think about what I wanted to do and come up with a process and they would support me and stand with me in helping my peers,” Costello said.

The program began at Newton High School and it has grown to many other area schools. Costello is only able to support 15 students at each school, however, because of the expense.

“Currently we are working with Merriam Avenue, Hardyston, Hamburg, Ogdensburg, and Green, but we are working on getting Franklin Borough on board too,” Costello said. “I fill about 175 bags a week with the hygiene and food products.”

Costello’s mom, Dawn explained the monthly cost is around $4000 for 175 bags each week. The 10-month school years costs approximately $39,000 “and that is only for the minimum people that we can help, only 15 people from each school, not counting the new oncoming Franklin Borough,” she said.

This is the program’s third year. Costello said she has worked in Erica Miller’s classroom at Newton High School together with approximately eight or nine kids from the Future Business Leaders of America or FBLA club, French Club and the football team. They come every week and help her pack the bags.

The bags are donated by sponsor Thor Labs in Newton.

Now that Costello is a junior though and her life and after school activities have become more hectic, the bags are packed by Isobel, Dawn and volunteers from the high school at the CFC building in Sparta, where she stores some of her supplies.

“The schools are so grateful when we drop off the bags. We try to keep all the bags similar in which products we put inside.” Dawn said. “It would be great if we could get this rolled out district wide. The costs are scary, but the excitement from the schools is amazing. We even have kids do one hour shifts for four to five hours outside Staples or Hayeks and ‘shake the can’ or hand out fliers to raise awareness.”

Some of the supplies include:

  • Crackers, cookies, Granola bars (snack foods)
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Meals in a can
  • Soups (canned, dry or cups)
  • Canned tuna or chicken
  • Boxed cereal
  • Packaged oatmeal
  • Mac n cheese
  • Pasta and pasta sauce
  • Jell-O or pudding packs (non refrigerated)
  • Canned fruit
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body soap (bar or liquid)
  • Feminine products (much needed)
  • Deodorant

Community members can help by donating any of the items on the list. Monetary donations are helpful as well so products for the bags can be purchased.

Costello, who only has a year and a half left before graduation, is already thinking long term. She is looking to pass the torch to her 13-year-old sister who is currently in training, according to Costello. 

Costello hopes that before she leaves there will be one ‘student liaison’ in every school that will be connected to the program so that it can continue and thrive.

 “My hopes are that my peers in need will realize that there is someone out there that cares enough to try and help,” Costello said. “Giving them confidence and hope to not give up because things will change and get better.

“On the flip side, I hope my peers who may begin to help me with this program, realize that it doesn’t matter how young you are, how rich or not you may be, you can make a huge difference in your community and beyond with a simple idea and the will and ambition to make it happen.”

To get involved in the Weekend Bags program, Costello can be reached via email at theweekendbagprogram@yahoo.com.