Seven years ago, my social worker, Edna Schwartz, asked if I would be willing to set up an appointment with a man who wanted to talk about ways he might be able to help some of our families.
A week later, we were sitting at the table in my office and the question was asked, “Do you have hungry kids?” “Hungry kids? Of course we do!”
Little did we know then, Dyron Howell was in exactly the right place at the right time. He showed us a video from Nightline about an organization in the Metroplex where he volunteered before moving to Amarillo; he wanted to continue the outreach he knew was needed in our area. Dyron promised that once children began receiving the food, they would continue to receive it until it was no longer needed. This system of support would not be one that failed students.
As a fairly new school principal, I did not realize the impact of either the question or the solution, and I did not take the appropriate steps in gaining permission at the district level. I had students who were hungry and a person who was offering a solution when other options seemed hopeless. Most organizations that were willing to help families in need are closed on Fridays, and it never fails: That is when we had the most families asking for help.
The hope of a partnership and the solution to hunger were answered prayers. Edna had been working with the families of ten of our children who needed help immediately. The bags began coming the next week – Labor Day weekend. We delivered those ten bags Friday afternoon, and so it began.
We did not deliver to those ten students for more than a couple of weeks before Edna asked if the organization could help us with a few more students. “Yes” was the answer, and we added more children to the list.
A few weeks later, I walked into the teachers’ lounge during lunch. The teachers were talking about how many times they had been asked that day if the bags were coming. The students were nervous about not getting their bags and were interrupting class time to ask about them every few minutes until they arrived.
We decided then we would begin delivering bags on Friday mornings so there would be peace for our children and learning could continue. It seemed like a great solution until we realized we had been steadily adding students to the Snack Pak list on a weekly basis, and by this time, it was taking us a couple of hours to go to each locker and deliver. We needed a better system.
One thing we did recognize is that students who received the bags were coming to school every Friday! Absenteeism was decreasing, and, in addition, the number of children in the nurses’ office on Monday morning was decreasing.
We witnessed other wins, too. Students were not only coming to school on Fridays, but those same students were also refusing to leave early (until the Paks were delivered), which allowed them to continue to participate in the learning process.
Our students knew we cared about them, and they were willing to do whatever it took to show success in our classrooms. As families got back on their feet, they would let us know they no longer needed the program, which allowed us to support others for the time they needed help.
Finally, we enlisted a parent volunteer and asked for our Snack Paks to be delivered on Thursdays. Our parent volunteer would deliver them each Thursday after school, and when children arrived Friday morning, they would see their Paks in their lockers.
The community awareness of Snack Pak 4 Kids was growing. Dyron began working with district leaders, adding one school at a time as he found donors with the same promise. As long as the family was in need, the food would be delivered.
Fast forward seven years. We are now feeding about 250 students in our school alone on a weekly basis. There is not a student in our school who has had to know from a personal experience about weekend hunger because we have had a solution which even includes younger, non-school-aged siblings!
In addition to our 250 students, children at all grade levels are finding support through Snack Pak across the Panhandle and in many other locations. We are so thankful that a solution landed at Rogers Elementary. We are thankful that our students have become scholars and that the learning they are able to accomplish will support them and their families for a lifetime.
Huseman (top left) and 2016 Rogers Elementary staff and students
Terri Huseman is the principal of Rogers Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas. Rogers Elementary is a Title I school with approximately 580 students from all over the world. Over 96 percent of its students are on free or reduced price lunch. Sixty-two percent do not speak English as their first language.
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