WACO, Texas (KWTX) A small army of volunteers heads out before dawn Friday to man collection sites across Central Texas where, throughout the day, thousands of residents will donate tons of nonperishable food items to help ensure their less fortunate neighbors don’t go hungry over the holidays and beyond.
More than a few of them have grown up with Food For Families and as the annual food drive enters its 30th year, members of a new generation of Central Texas children are playing a big role in ensuring that food pantries across the region are well stocked.
Students in Susan Duty’s sixth grade class at Cesar Chavez Middle School in Waco are among them and they know just what to do.
This week they’ve rolled up their sleeves to help with Food For Families, the largest one-day food drive in the state of Texas.
The goal this year is to gather 2.5 million pounds of donations for food pantries across the region and the class at Cesar Chavez is determined to make a big dent in the goal.
Jennifer, one of the students in class, says pitching in “feels good.
“We learn that other people are having a harder time than we are,” she said.
“I have a friend who sometimes goes to bed hungry and it makes her feel bad,” Jennifer said,
“She has real bad nights and she can’t sleep so she’s tired all the time.”
Duty, who was a schoolgirl herself in the early years of Food For Families, knows how much impact food insecurity can have on young lives.
“My kids can’t learn if they’re hungry,” Duty said.
She keeps snacks in her desk for children who might need a boost during the day, just as her mother, a retired teacher, did.
“It’s not in my contract but it’s my responsibility,” she said and added emphatically.
“My kids will not go hungry.”
Duty’s class participates at a high level every year, which is good for Food For Families, but Duty said the benefits of the learning experience go far past a food drive.
The students are learning such life skills as communication, empathy, generosity and caring for others.
The class participates in some sort of benefit effort all year long, which right now is focused on Operation Refugee Child, an international effort to provide basic needs to refugees in Syria.
Students donate funds to the cause, which is provided to the charity to purchase basic items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes that are packed into a shoe box, then stuffed in a backpack, Duty said.
When refugees arrive in Syria, the charity gives each child a backpack.
Also, inside the box is a personal note written by the kid who packed the box and intended for the kid who opens it up.
“We have seen pictures of the notes pinned on the outside of tents where the children are living in Syria. It heartwarming,” Duty said.
“It’s the same thing we do for Food For Families but it’s for people all around the world,” Adan, an 11-year-old in the class, said.
“It’s helping kids across the world because they need help,” Adan said.
“When you help people around the world who don’t have food, it feels really good and you get to experience new stuff and learn how the kids there live.”
So far Duty’s class has gathered $111.38 for the operation and the class keeps close count every day.
Duty said one girl in the class donated her entire birthday check, $25, to the fund.
“They have very caring hearts,” Duty said.
The emphasis on people skills teaching is a routine thing these days, as class time is divided into units, or sections, and the one currently under study is entitled Caring and Acceptance.
“We learn to help those who are homeless or hungry and to never say no,” Jennifer said.
“I tell them life will get better. You’ll have a home soon and things will get better,” Jennifer said, “and that people really do care.”
Thanks to Jennifer and thousands of others like her, over the past 29 years the annual food drive has provided exactly 28,952,219 pounds of food to families from Hillsboro to Salado and from Evant to Mexia, through the annual, daylong live television event.