Currently a third of Lewisville ISD students eat free and reduced-price meals when in school. Two local groups are concerned about the food security of these students at home after school hours, when students can’t receive the meals.
“They rely on their free breakfast and lunch at school and for some of these kids, that may be the only food they eat,” said Hillery Cross, founder of the Lewisville chapter of Lovepacs. “There might not be food at home for dinner.”
Lovepacs is a nonprofit that delivers meals throughout the school year to LISD students to take home and eat over three-day weekends and week-long breaks.
Another club started by two Lewisville High School Harmon staff members and run with the help of students is also helping ease the need for food at home. The group sends food home with students over the weekend.
LISD director of communications Liz Haas said during the school year, the amount of students in the district who use the free and reduced meal plans ranges from 31 to 35 percent. It currently is at 33 percent.
World history teacher Bailey Brasuell, who started the Grub Hub pantry at Harmon along with a colleague, said 60 percent of the school’s population get free or reduced lunch.
“If they’re distracted, they’re not going to do well academically,” Brasuell said of hunger. “If we could just not have them worry about that, then they can focus more on their academics, on their extracurriculars, on clubs — stuff like that.”
Dozens of boxes were stacked in the Flower Mound garage. Storage bins were filled with peanut butter jars, fruit cups, a variety of snacks and cans of tuna and soup. About 15 volunteers and their children were loading SUVS with boxes to feed LISD Central students over spring break.
Lovepacs Lewisville currently serves about 350 students at 10 schools — Parkway, Southridge, Vickery, Hedrick, Central and College Street elementary schools, Hedrick and Delay middle schools, Lewisville Learning Center and Purnell Support Center.
The nonprofit started delivering meals to students at Hedrick Elementary for Columbus Day weekend in 2015. Cross said food insecurity affects more than just a child’s physical well-being.
“For a lot of them, it can affect attendance. As they get older, they’re more likely to drop out of school if they need to go get a job in order to eat,” Cross said. “My personal opinion — it’s very hard to feel loved when you’re hungry and so this is one way we show people in our community that they are loved and they are cared for and they’re not forgotten and they do matter.”
Cross said the group was sent an anonymous letter from a student who receives the food. The student, a teenager, takes care of her younger siblings.
“It makes her want to cry when her younger siblings say, ‘We’re hungry. We want a snack,’ and she has to tell them, ‘No,’ because they don’t have any food,” Cross said.
The letter said Lovepacs allows the student to provide her siblings with a snack when they say they’re hungry, Cross said.
“She feels like she’s taking care of them. She’s helping them. She’s doing what she needs to do,” she said. “No caregiver, whether you’re a teenager or an adult, wants to have to tell a hungry child that there’s no food to give them.”
Volunteer Becky Pedraza Powell, whose son attends the same pre-kindergarten school as Cross’ son, said she went to Central Elementary and Delay Middle.
“All those schools, they mean something,” she said. “I had no idea there was a need the way there was, but yet I lived here, I was raised here, and I left and came back — still had no idea.”
Powell is helping plan Lovepacs’ fund-raising gala, which will be at 7 p.m on April 7 at the Westin Stonebriar Hotel in Frisco. She said she is searching for donations from Lewisville businesses for the silent and online auctions and trying to get the word out. Powell said donations of $5 or $10 would even help out.
“Every penny goes to something that needs to get done. None of us make any money. We don’t get paid anything,” Powell said. “I didn’t realize how expensive boxes could be.”
Tickets for the event are $60 a piece or two tickets for $100. Those wishing to donate to the auction or purchase tickets can visit biddingforgood.com/lovepacs.
Cross said in addition to always accepting volunteers, the Lewisville chapter could use somebody to sponsor or donate the cardboard boxes used for delivery.
The group is also looking for help getting a larger storage space than Cross’ garage. Before 2016’s Christmas meal deliveries took place, the garage was packed with boxes. What didn’t fit in her garage was stored in a neighbor’s garage. As the number of schools that receive boxes grows, Cross anticipates her garage won’t have enough space.
The students get shelf-stable foods that are easy to prepare in case a parent isn’t home during the breaks. They get peanut butter and jelly as well as a loaf of bread in their box. Kroger and WinCo have donated crates of bread loaves to the chapter to send home with children.
A ninth grade AP class at Marcus High School donated enough meal bags to the chapter to provide for all its schools on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The donations allowed it to pick up an extra school too.
“It’s not this abstract problem that they have to hope some government official or adult is going to work on, or maybe when they get older they can do something about it,” Cross said of the student involvement. “It’s a problem, it’s right next door to you and here’s the solution. And they can do something about it.”
To get involved with the Lewisville chapter of Lovepacs, email Cross at Hillery.Cross@lovepacs.org.
“Grub Hub Club”
In a storage closet in the cafeteria at the ninth-and-tenth grade Harmon campus sits shelves stacked with canned vegetables, Goldfish crackers, macaroni and cheese and other non-perishable food items. This is the Grub Hub, a food pantry.
Brasuell and ESL aid Holly Schnitzius came up with the idea to provide food for students after a brainstorm session in the fall. The two would keep food in their desks and cabinets to hand out to students who would approach them hungry and seeking food.
The two thus created the Grub Hub. Students interested in taking meals home over the weekend fill out a Google form at the beginning of the week.
Identities are protected. Students don’t include their names on the forms but instead their student identification number and second period teacher. Backpacks filled with two proteins, two fruits, two veggies, two mini-meals and two breakfast items are then delivered to requesting students’ second period on Fridays, sophomore club member Axel Aleman said. Students return the bags empty the following Monday.
The after-school club is still seeking an official name, in the meantime members jokingly refer to it as the “Grub Hub Club.”
Brasuell said the Grub Hub fed about 25 students over Christmas break. On average it provides for 10 to 15 students each week.
“Hopefully now that we’ve opened it up to the whole school, we’ll be able to pack more bags,” she said.
The program, which began around October, was available to the students who received free or reduced-price meals. As of March 6, the pantry goods were made available to all students.
Schnitzius said students might feel a stigma attached to accepting help with food.
“If we open it up to all of the students on campus, then it takes that away,” she said. “What we really want is eventually to reach all 600 of those students without a [stigma] attached to it.”
Schnitzius said the aim is to take the idea of bettering the whole child, a focus in elementary school, and applying it to junior and senior high school students too.
“How can we better this whole child, not just when we have them in class, but if we’re taking this off of their minds, how else does that change their life?” she said. “If they’re not worried about where they’re eating, what does that change outside in the community? And can they see the next step then? If they don’t have to worry about this, what can they obtain next?”
With a little over 1,300 students on the campus, this allows students to be seen and feel acknowledged in their struggles to meet basic needs, Schnitzius said. In turn this could help build a trust between students and teachers, allowing for more education to take place.
“This is hopefully filling a basic need that they have been lacking,” she said. “I’m happy to take this off your plate. You no longer have to worry about food on the weekend. You’re not going to go to jail for stealing this weekend because your meals are covered. Now Monday morning, when you come and you’re fed, I need you to focus.”
Teachers at Harmon often donate food to the pantry. The Highland Village Police, Five Star Ford and the Lewisville Noon Rotary have also given food to the club. Lowes, Home Depot and Pioneer Realty donated the shelves the pantry uses.
Those wishing to donate to the club can drop off canned food and boxed meals at Harmon’s front office during school hours. The club will also be hosting a community “Thank You” day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 13 at Harmon. There will be a food drive, snacks and drinks, and activities such as face painting at the event.
The group partners with the Salvation Army. When the club gets holiday items, such as cranberry sauce or stuffing, items in glass containers or other things they cannot pack in the bags, it donates them to the Salvation Army. In turn the Salvation Army gives items to the school pantry. The “Thank You” day food drive will benefit both food pantries at Harmon and the Salvation Army.
Harmon Principal Tony Fontana said the local community and businesses have been extremely gracious in providing for the group, from donating equipment to stocking the shelves.
“We are branching into areas of support that not many local high schools have had to work through and we believe this is another opportunity to support our students and families we serve outside the classroom walls,” Fontana said.