Red bags keep children fed this summer
Food insecurity is a topic that is often overlooked. The United States is one of the most advanced and industrialized countries in the world, yet one in seven families utilize a local food bank, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. 23,310 people in Johnson County are considered food insecure.
While children living in poverty are able to get a free hot breakfast and lunch during the school year, many are not able to get access to that same healthy food during the summer months when school is out. Fort Worth ISD and Cleburne ISD have summer feeding programs, but for school districts where the median income pushes them just above the federal funding level for summer feeding programs, such as Burleson ISD, children often go hungry.
That’s when three ladies decided to partner together to do something about this issue affecting 9,820 children in Burleson. The Red Bag program was started, thanks to Jerri Hoaldridge-McNair, Jennifer Herren and Mary Easton.
Forty percent of the children who attend schools in BISD qualify for food assistance, said Mary Easton, hunger solutions advisor for Pathway Church.
“We knew that there was a problem,” Easton said. “Throughout the summer, Promises and Harvest House provides food for about 1,000 people. Harvest House provides kid-friendly boxes of food once a month, but that often isn’t enough.”
Pathway previously tried to start a summer feeding program but ran into logistical problems. There was no way to bus kids into schools or to supervise them while there.
Jerri Hoaldridge-McNair, a retired educator, was interested in helping with the summer feeding program, but again ran into logistical problems. That’s when she decided to come at the issue from a different angle.
“I knew that in larger cities schools were open for breakfast, lunch and even an afternoon snack,” McNair said. “Then I thought,’Why don’t we do a fundraiser?’ I wanted to unify the community with the schools.”
That’s when McNair also recruited Jennifer Herren, a State Farm agent, who said the women could use her office to hold the fundraiser.
“For short notice, you just have to rely on friends to help you,” McNair said. “But I give credit to Pathway and the other community sponsors.”
Being hungry for even a short period of time can affect a child’s well-being, Easton said. A hungry child can’t engage in daily activities and will become lethargic. Easton partnered with another church who gave backpacks of food to at-risk children to take home over the weekend who may not otherwise get enough to eat. The results were exactly what Easton expected.
“The children came back to school on Monday and were able to concentrate in class better,” she said. “They were more engaged and happier.”
Jennifer Herren became passionate about the program after being an educator in Joshua. Her passion for helping children solidified her desire to get involved in this pilot program.
“I worked in a Title I school,” Herren said. “Those kids would come to school dying of hunger, especially on Mondays because you can tell they didn’t get anything over the weekend. If I go a few hours without eating, my mind isn’t there either. It’s amazing what the lack of food can do to you physically and mentally.”
A recent fundraiser helped bring in over $1,000 for the program, but more funds and items are needed. Items needed include jars of peanut butter, jelly, instant oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, shelf-stable milk, jars of ravioli, canned chicken, ramen noodles, cereal, canned soups, canned tuna, granola bars, fruit cups and fruit juice cartons. If you don’t want to go shopping but still want to donate, the cost to feed one child with the items requested is $15.
Additionally, if you are a family that could benefit from a Red Bag, you may register at Harvest House or promises.
“The bags will start to go out in June, so we are starting to stock up now,” Herren said. “Pantries are starting to figure out how many items they need to purchase. We are trying to be an extra service and not a hit to their monthly budgets.”
This is a monthly drive until June, and 200 bags have already gone out, Easton said.
“If you have a Sam’s or Costco membership, you can go and buy a flat of peanut butter and other items,” she said. “That is very helpful. Some of these items, such as the shelf-stable milk are a little bit more expensive, but whatever people can afford to donate, we will take.”
If you would like to donate to the Red Bag program, you can drop off items at Jennifer Herren’s State Farm office, located at 638 SW Wilshire, Pathway Church, Harvest House or Promises. There is also a donation link on Pathway’s website to donate funds.