The nine school food banks in the College Station school district received a year-end gift from the College Station Education Foundation with more than $1,000 in grant funding.
The CSISD Education Foundation presented a $15,000 check to the school district to be distributed among Chrissy’s Closet and the nine food banks housed at the district’s intermediate, middle and high schools.
In the College Station school district, approximately 5,320 students from Head Start through high school may lack basic necessities, such as food, and the need has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the foundation.
Ericka Mitchell, head of donor relations with the education foundation, said they learned of the increasing need at the schools and knew there had to be grants that would fit the need.
An $8,000 grant from the Walden and Adele Orr Trust – a Wells Fargo Charitable Trust – and leftover funds from the Thanksgiving grant from the alliantgroup out of Houston equaled $10,000. Then a $5,000 grant from the Kroger Foundation created the $15,000 presented on Dec. 7.
“It’s pretty cool when it works out because you never know,” Mitchell said about the grants. “The thing about grant writing is you can write a bunch and you really never know the return. Sometimes it’s just a shot in the dark, and luckily, the need just, I think, spoke to the funders and we were able to make it happen.”
Lauren Cummings, sixth grade English teacher at Cypress Grove Intermediate School, operates the food bank at the school and said of the more than 600 students on the campus, she sends home about 30 bags of food with students each week.
“There’s probably more that we could be sending home that we just haven’t reached yet, so the goal is to increase those numbers throughout the year and each year,” she said. “This is the first year that we’re doing this, so the fact that we’re reaching 28 to 30 people in the first year is pretty awesome. And the money will just allow that to continue and to get bigger.”
Erin Bywater, ESL specialist at Oakwood Intermediate School, restarted the school’s food pantry in April and said she started with 10 students and has seen the pantry expand to help 41 students, as of last week.
“We know that it’s a need, and if their bellies are empty, their mind is not going to be able to be full,” she said.
With students and families who are new to the area or from other countries, Bywater said she understands the time it takes to adjust. She has conversations with students and families that the help is there if they need.
“I don’t want them to feel like I’m forcing them or that something is wrong for taking this,” she said. “It’s an odd thing to think about, but I don’t want them to think and I don’t want families to think that this is bad that they are receiving help. … There are times in everyone’s life where everyone needs some help of some sort, and if making sure your child has a few meals on the weekend is how I can help and how Oakwood can help, then please, let us help.”
In each bag or backpack the students receive weekly, they have kid-friendly, nutritious foods suitable for breakfast, lunch and dinner to last them through the weekend until they return to school, as well as any basic toiletries they may need. However, the extended winter break brings a challenge for each of the food pantries because the students will not be in school again until January.
To help during the extended time off, including Thanksgiving and spring break, the students receive larger amounts of food, such as a full box of cereal instead of individual servings or multiple bags of ramen or mashed potatoes.
“That’ll be where the money will help tremendously because when we come back from Christmas, our stock will be much lower since we’ll be sending home so much more for this break,” Cummings said. “We’ll have to kind of restock to keep up, so that’s where the money definitely comes into play and definitely helps us. Some of these longer breaks can clean us out, so it’ll be nice to be able to restock quickly and not miss a beat in passing out those bags when they return.”
Bywater said she hopes to use some of the money to purchase more backpacks for students who have been using other types of bags and asking when they will receive a backpack.
“Now I can place that order.”
With support from their schools, Cummings and Bywater said, the money will help their new or revamped food banks going through the end of the year and help them get ready for the 2022-2023 school year without relying solely on donations.
They said they see the students get excited to receive their backpacks and take the food home to their families.
“They all just seem to be a little bit happier, and I think that’s full evidence as to why we need this and we need this to continue,” Cummings said. “It’s just changing their demeanor and everything. It’s been really positive.”
Cummings said she hopes to see her numbers increase because it will mean they have reached more students who can benefit.
“I want to make sure we’re helping whoever we can possibly help, so if that means that our numbers are higher because there’s more people in need, then we’re going to help those people in need,” she said. “I would love to be able to say that there’s no one in need, but there are, and as many people as we can reach, the better. So hopefully, we can start finding them and adding to the impact that we’re making.”
When members of the CSISD Education Foundation visited the schools to drop of the individual checks, Bywater said, “I would have been happy if they came in with a flat of carrots. … Anything that we can get towards the pantry really does help.”
Mitchell said it is an honor to be part of helping the schools meet those needs of students, calling food a “very basic building block” to education.
“Kids don’t learn when they’re hungry,” she said. “If their stomach is rumbling, they can’t focus on anything in school. … When I think of kids not having enough to eat, it brings me to my knees, and I thought, if there’s something that we can do about it, we’re going to make it work.”
She thinks of her children’s classmates some of whom might not have enough food at home and need the help the food banks provide.
In addition to the CSISD Education Foundation, the food banks also receive donations from the local parent organizations, Brazos 9-1-1, Blessings in a Bag, the Brazos Valley Food Bank, Morningstar Storage and the local chapter of the National Charity League.
Anyone interested can donate to their school in particular or to the CSISD Education Foundation online and specify they want the donation to benefit the food pantry. If people want to donate food items, Cypress Grove has an Amazon Wish List and Oakwood has a list of the most needed items.
Bywater said the one thing to remember when donating food items is to think about what children can make on their own and will like.
The items on Oakwood’s most-needed list are the following: individual mac and cheese cups, Spaghetti-Os type pasta, fruit cups, individual applesauce, small boxes of raisins, small packs of cookies and crackers, individual oatmeal packets, microwave popcorn, canned meat (tuna, chicken, Vienna sausages or SPAM), Slim Jims, individual cereal boxes or bowls, small bags of pancake mix and small packs of mashed potatoes.