Tom Cottar officially launched the Pflugerville-based Backpack Friends nonprofit in 2018 with his wife, Heather Cottar, but they both said they noticed a growing need to feed schoolchildren long before that.

A minister at Pflugerville’s First Baptist Church, Tom said one day in 2014 he heard about a local high school student who passed out in her English class because she was so hungry.

“That put it on our radar that it was kind of a big deal,” Tom said. “In the state of Texas, 1 in 4 kids doesn’t have food to eat on the weekends, which is unbelievable to think about.”

Fueled by that story and Tom’s own memories of food insecurity, he and Heather began working through First Baptist to raise money and resources to feed area schoolchildren.

What began as an effort that produced weekend meal kits for 12 students at Pflugerville ISD’s Spring Hill Elementary School evolved into a regional effort that now serves thousands more.

After four years building a network through PfISD, Backpack Friends—which provides packages to food-insecure students to last them through the weekend—became a 501(c)(3) and had grown to provide 8,860 meal kits to 88 students across four PfISD campuses.

By the end of May 2022, Tom said Backpack Friends, which now serves students in campuses in Burnett, Travis and Williamson counties, provided more than 85,000 meal kits throughout the 2021-22 school year.

Today, Backpack Friends also serves students in school districts including in Hutto, Taylor, Jarrell, Bertram, Florence, Marble Falls and Bartlett.

With the rapid growth of the nonprofit has come a need to scale up the overall system. Heather said that involves gatherings to make an average of 1,000 food kits per week during the school year as well as organizing delivery trips to each campus throughout the week. School staff then discreetly distribute each food kit on Fridays. One of the best parts of the work involves the packing parties with what Tom describes as an army of volunteers at the distribution center on Pecan Street near downtown Pflugerville.

“We have these Monday night packing parties,” he said. “We’ll crank up the music, and it’s like Beyonce and Costco had a baby, and we’re throwing a party. It’s one of my favorite nights of the week.”

Backpack Friends

700 W. Pecan St., Pflugerville