By Michael V. Hannigan
It is Monday morning at the local elementary school and a third grader — an 8-year-old girl — walks into the cafeteria for breakfast. She goes through the line getting as much food as she can and then wolfs it down as quickly as possible when she gets back to a table. Then she goes through the line again and gets more food and eats it as fast as possible. She then finishes the last of the food off her friend’s plate. … Eventually, she eats enough that it overloads her stomach and she has to run to the bathroom to be sick.
Strange behavior? Not for someone who hasn’t eaten for two days. The sad truth is some kids don’t get to eat between leaving school on Friday and returning Monday morning.
It is a scene school administrators in Henderson County were used to seeing, but thanks to the work of some dedicated people it is becoming less common.
Working in Tool
I first heard the scenario described above almost three years ago from David Bullock, a member of Cedar Creek United Methodist Church. He said the same kids who gorged on Monday often tried to sneak food home on Friday.
“Friday and Monday are 40 percent of the week. How can you learn anything if you’re sick or worried 40 percent of the time?” David was quoted as saying in a 2011 article in The Monitor.
According to the Texas Hunger Research Project, “Almost one-in-five Texas households (18.8 percent) are food insecure, and over one-in-four (28 percent) children live in households that struggle to afford food.”
David’s church fights the problem through the brown bag program. Each Friday, church members put together bags of kid-friendly food — items that don’t need refrigeration or cooking and that are easy to open — and deliver them to Tool Elementary School.
The school’s administrators make sure the food gets to the right students.
Currently, the church is delivering 17 bags each Friday … although there have been as many as 20 at times.
Working in Malakoff
In Malakoff, a similar program is run by Faith in Action Outreach.
FIAO, which also runs a food pantry and clothes closet, started out last year delivering to just Malakoff but expanded this year to include Eustace and Cross Roads.
FIAO Secretary Teri Caswell said the group now delivers 30 bags to Malakoff Elementary School, 30 bags to Eustace Elementary School, and 20 bags to Cross Roads Elementary School each week.
Working in Athens
In Athens, the Backpack Program does the same thing for 78 students across the district.
The program is administered by AISD parent liaison Yadira Chairez, with Eastern Hills Church of Christ actually picking up and storing the food.
“(The program) started three years ago when we saw the need. … When we saw the kids taking food off of other people’s plates on Monday mornings,” Chairez said.
The Athens Backpack Program is run through the East Texas Food Bank.
“The kids are really excited. They are not having to scrounge for food anymore,” Chairez said.
She explained that sometimes the kids might not be going home for the weekend, they might instead be going with a grandparent or an aunt and the program makes it so they don’t have to worry about food.
“Unfortunately for some of our kids, the meals that we serve them here might be the only good meal they have during the day,” said Athens ISD Superintendent Blake Stiles.
How to help
Between the three programs, 175 students aren’t going hungry over the weekend. What can you do?
Donations of money are always accepted, of course. In Athens, $149 will sponsor a child for an entire year.
Beyond that, however, think about donating some time to one of these groups. The community’s need is often greater than the number of hands lined up to help. Contact any of the group’s below to see how you can join the fight.
- David Bullock, Cedar Creek United Methodist Church, 469-383-4318
- Teri Caswell, Faith in Action Outreach, 903-880-2906, email email@example.com
- Yadira Chairez, Athens ISD, 903-677-6900, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eastern Hills Church of Christ, 903-675-3975
Walmart is also running a contest to award $3 million to food banks … log on Facebook here, and vote for the East Texas Food Bank.