November 13, 2014 ... About 3 years ago, I had a head-on collision with reality. I have spent many years in lay outreach ministry as a part of SonRise Outreach (First United Methodist, Round Rock) working with the homeless, primarily through Church Under the Bridge in Austin and their parent organization, Mission Possible. Late in 2010, we observed their ministry to be well supported by churches all over the Austin area and made a conscious decision to pull back to Williamson County. Our ministry group felt there had to be needs in our own backyard, in Williamson County, that we could be more useful in addressing.
In casting around for a ministry opportunity, I had that ‘head on collision’ the day one of my team members approached me, frantic to find food to feed 17 of her elementary age students over Spring Break in 2011. I was stunned – I, like so many others I meet in speaking all over town, considered Round Rock a more affluent suburb. The very idea that there were children going hungry was appalling to me: After all, this was not Appalachia or some rural deep South locale; there were agencies and programs to take care of these children….weren’t there? As I quickly discovered, this is a quiet and largely unaddressed issue in our community. Anyone who has ever been a teacher will attest to the reality and will also tell you its heartbreaking consequences.
After feeding those first students at Spring Break, we grew quickly; such are the dimensions of the problem. We were at 50 children in that one elementary school by May.
Over the summer, we recruited a number of partner churches, and we were in 7 schools by late 2011, feeding an average of 460 students each week by May, 2012.
2012/13 saw our Coalition grow to include 9 area churches, community groups and businesses partnering to support schools. We were excited to have Dell Computers as a partner in Callison Elementary. We wrapped up the school year that May serving an average of 700 students each week in 11 RRISD schools.
UPDATE (July 2018)
During the 2013/14year, there was even more growth: We mentored new programs in the Hutto and Lexington school districts and explored expansion of our program into a RRISD high school and into the Pflugerville district.
The 2014/2015 school year found the Backpack project going strong. Approaching 900 students served each week, our volunteers have taken the program's growth and expansion in stride with creative solutions and dedication. Just the thought of moving about 1 1/4 tons of food weekly through our humble space is staggering and truly something to see. Exciting times!
The 2015/16 school year was amazing as we surpassed 1,000 students each week. Our Spring Break effort alone brought in more than 8 tons of food; we distributed about 6 tons to the students we serve and sent the rest to assist other area food banks.
In August, 2017, we partnered with the Round Rock Independent School district, and they graciously offered us the use of one of the portable classrooms on the Round Rock High School campus.
Statistically, 1 in 4 children in Central Texas comes from a home that is not food stable. This means at any given time there may be nothing to eat in the home. For a child who is not adequately nourished over the weekend, studies show it takes them until Wednesday to recover full cognitive ability, only to start the process over again each Friday if no one steps up to help. The body is a marvelous machine: When faced with less than adequate food, it maintains core functions and sacrifices the “extras” – cognitive and higher learning abilities are the first casualties. Extended malnutrition not only destroys existing brain cells, it impairs the body's ability to make new brain cells.
It is intuitive that the under-nourished children will not be as successful in standardized testing. In short, our program’s goal is to nurture these children, give them a level playing field, the chance to not only survive, but thrive and become contributing members of our community. Currently it costs us $5.00 per week to feed a student for the weekend.
This is a huge undertaking and a huge financial commitment. I hope that you feel the pull of this ministry as strongly as I do. We are a non-profit 501(c)3 organization as of March 11, 2013.
Come, volunteer, give: Be a part of our story as together we continue to Feed The Future.
The Backpack Coalition Chair