In its second semester of the current school year the Food for Thought program of the Good Samaritan Ministries is in full swing after the Christmas holidays with its largest numbers yet.
During the week of Jan. 23, GSM volunteers packed 122 sacks of food for chronically hungry students in Brown County schools, up from 67 at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Typically there are more students on the program during the second half of the school year.
GSM has worked diligently this year to communicate with site coordinators on each campus to ensure that every student placed on the program is chronically hungry, not just low income.
Chronically hungry students are those who, when they leave school on Friday, may or may not eat again until they return to school on Monday.
"It would surprise most people to realize that there are actually students who don't have an adequate food source over the weekends," said Misty Bowers, Food for Thought Coordinator. "One hundred twenty-two students is a lot, but in a county the size of ours it's incredibly telling."
GSM just closed out the year with record numbers of families who had asked for help from the food pantry. More than 1,300 families received grocery staples in the month of December alone, a new record for the ministry.
But throughout 2011, record numbers were set from the numbers of families who needed help at an all-time high to donations at a six-year low.
"But even when giving in general was low, people always came through for the kids," Bowers said. "Anytime you let the community know that there are needs, especially needs involving children, they always come through in a big way."
She said so many families each month needing help with groceries, it can be assumed that many of those families include children.
"We're incredibly thankful to be able to offer this program and to fill a gap in the most basic needs of children in our county schools," Bowers said. "We have an amazing group of volunteers, site coordinators and supporters."
And it takes everyone working together to make the program the success that it is.
Each campus has a site coordinator who is responsible for administering the program on the campus, making sure that each faculty and staff member are aware of the program, signing students up for the program and letting the Food for Thought coordinator know how many bags to pack for that campus.
Armed with that information, volunteers are assigned a campus or two and pack enough sacks for the students on that campus.
Donations from individuals and businesses make it possible to purchase the food for our students and to ensure that their basic nutritional needs are met over the weekend.
"No one likes to think about children going hungry when we can do something to prevent it," Bowers said. "This is a program we may wish we didn't have to have, but the fact is there are children without an adequate food source over the weekend."
The Food for Thought Program will continue to distribute sacks of food on the weekends throughout the school year.
It costs $4.50 to provide one sack of food to one student for one weekend. Anyone who would like to make a donation may do mail it to P.O. Box 1136, Brownwood, TX, 76804; bring it by 305 Clark St. or make it online at goodsambwd.org.