Love Packs: An Interview with Jess Balac and Catie Sumner

Our Love Packs Ministry is teaming up with the Massanutten Regional Library from now-August 6th for a “Every Hero Has A Story” change drive in which every cent goes towards Love Packs. 

With this in mind, we wanted to sit down with Jess Balac (OutReach Coordinator) and Catie Sumner (Coordinator of Love Packs) and ask them about Love Packs and what it means to them: 

Jess, why is it important for not only the RISE community but the Harrisonburg community to help out and/or receive Love Packs? 

Foremost, it is incredibly important that Harrisonburg receives Love Packs because our community desperately needs it.  For example, the first elementary school we started sponsoring, Spotswood Elementary, has a population in the 90th percentile of students who are on free or reduced lunch…this means that, financially, their families qualify for reduced pricing or free food in the cafeteria.  These are Harrisonburg residents, not affiliated with RISE in any way.  Families are struggling in our community, and to truly root one's self in community (which is one of RISE's primary goals) you have to pay attention to its needs.  Particularly, we pack so that students can have food over the weekends when their parents otherwise could not afford to buy lunch or breakfast for their kids. Even if we only provide a few meals a week for these kids, that's financial and mental stress off of the parent and it puts food in a hungry child's stomach.  

I think it's very important for the Harrisonburg community to help out because if you don't invest in your own community, your neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and local culture will suffer.  Hunger affects students so badly…they have trouble concentrating in school, their attitudes suffer, which just creates a snowball effect in their life.  If children in need aren't cared for and served I think the future of our community suffers.

 What do YOU get out of it? Why are you so passionate about Love Packs? 

Personally, children tug at my heart strings very much.  While it's not the field that I work in, I went to school to become a licensed teacher.  At every point throughout my adolescent and adult life I have been doing something in relation to kids…I think it's just who I am.  I love delivering Love Packs and seeing the look on the kid’s faces as I wheel them down the hallway.  They know exactly what they are and many children whisper "thank you" as I walk past them in the school.  They smile, giggle, and squirm because they see me walking towards their classroom to deliver.  If nothing else, I think the experience of delivering Love Packs touches my very basic human desire to care for children.

Why should others be passionate about it?

There are so many reasons I believe people should be passionate and get involved with this program.  Foremost, people should be passionate to help strengthen it…it is doing so much good in the community (as well as other churches/organizations that run similar programs).  I would love to see a community that is so aware and in touch with its own needs that it takes care of its people and invests in the programs that help it.  A self-sufficient community rooted in caring for and being with one another...what a wonderful place that would be…I hope other people want that/are passionate about that for their community.  Love Packs is one way people can start to work towards that goal.  As much as I love Love Packs, it's not just about our one program…people need to figure out what they are passionate about helping with and just go do it; whether it's Love Packs with RISE or another food programs through a different organization.  However, if people are looking to take a first step towards community service, Love Packs is here, and we would love help.


Catie it’s your turn, what makes the Change Drive so important to the Harrisonburg community?

It binds us in a way!  It helps the community to lean on each other and to care for one another.  It's also important for the community to realize that there are families (here in our own neighborhoods, next door, going to our schools, etc.) that are struggling to put food on the table and that's not ok and there's a way that we can help.

Why are you so passionate about LOVE Packs?

I got the privilege of being part of the team who started Love was just 20 back packs, four years ago.  Now, it has grown tremendously and it's exciting!  It's exciting to provide opportunities for people to help a neighbor and to learn from it!  I hope that we can really listen to the struggle and hopefully make a difference so that maybe in ten years, we won't need to fill these bags!

If you have any questions about Love Packs and/or the "Every Hero Has A Story" Change Drive, contact Jess Balac (  

-Interview by: Savanah Biche, a member of the RISE marketing team