$150/yr. or $12.50/mo. feeds an elementary student.
$360/yr. or $30/mo. feeds a middle or high school student.
Adults courageously tell their story about hunger they faced as children and how it impacted their lives in a December AGN story.
Like torture:' Experience spurs woman to fight child
Posted: December 15, 2012 - 10:04pm
By BRITTANY NUNN
“Hunger ... it’s worse than sad. It’s like torture,” Shiloh Stanley said as she stared across the room with a distant look in
Stanley, 34, grew up in a home where money was a constant struggle. From the time she was in first grade, her mom
simply didn’t make enough money waiting tables to provide for the family.
“I remember when weekends came, that eerie feeling of, ‘Oh my goodness, am I going to eat when I get home?’” she
Stories like Stanley’s were the reason Dyron Howell and his wife, Kelly, started the Snack Pak 4 Kids program in
September 2010, Howell said.
Snack Pak 4 Kids is a nonprofit weekend backpack program that provides nutritious snacks for students who live in homes
where youngsters at times don’t get enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.
It began serving 10 children at Will Rogers Elementary School in September 2010. The program has grown to serve more
than 2,400 students in seven school districts: Amarillo, Fritch, Hereford, Tulia, River Road, Walcott and Bushland.
Volunteers pack 10 to 12 nutritious snacks in plastic bags, deliver them to the school, and place them in backpacks to be
discreetly sent home each Friday.
Hunger is far from a new problem in Amarillo, Howell said, but it’s been a silent epidemic. For the first time, some are
stepping forward to tell their stories.
“And that takes a lot of courage,” Howell said, “and each generation needs to hear this story from their perspective, rather
than a perspective they can’t relate to.”
To Stanley, hunger was going outside to play in order to distract herself from how hungry she was; it was eating whatever
scraps she could find in the pantry or get from a friend; it was going to bed on Sunday nights in pain, aching for Monday
morning, when she would get breakfast at school.
Now 35, Stanley lives the life little girls dream of, with a house in a nice neighborhood, a happy marriage to her high
school sweetheart, two beautiful daughters and a business she helps her husband run.
But she said she’s never forgotten what it means to be helplessly hungry, and she was shocked to learn there are thousands
of children in Amarillo whose childhoods mirror her own.
One in three children in the Texas Panhandle live in homes without adequate access to healthy, nutritious food, according
to reports by Feeding America. Nationwide, 16 percent of households face this problem and in Texas, 18 percent of
households are “foodinsecure,” the report said.
It’s hard to grasp the enormity of child hunger, Stanley said, because no one would guess that the child sitting beside their
child at school is hungry.
“I was good at putting a smile on my face and, you know, life is good. I wouldn’t tell anyone anything that was going on. I
was good at covering it up, and no one would have ever known what I dealt with when I went home,” she said.
When Shannon Gonzales glanced down at her daughter, Nevaeh, her eyes filled with tears.
“You want your child to have everything,” she said quietly, in a voice thick with emotion. “Knowing that you can’t feed your
own little baby because you can’t afford to, that’s the hardest thing.”
Gonzales became homeless in April 2009 and moved into a homeless shelter.
She did everything “right.” She was going to school for accounting, had a parttime job, and eventually moved out of the
shelter into an apartment, but between rent, bills, child care, gas and other necessities, it was hard for her to stretch her
single income to cover groceries.
For her, hunger meant lying awake at night wondering how she was going to stretch $10 into a week’s worth of food; it
meant sending Nevaeh to school irritable and sluggish; it meant wandering down aisles at the grocery store, bypassing fruit
and vegetables to fill her cart with boxes of virtually nutritionless instant noodles.
She remembers Neveah struggling at school. Her daughter had no energy, and her grades were failing because she wasn’t
able to concentrate in the classroom.
Gonzales also noticed behavioral problems. The oncehappy girl was often irritable and snappy with teachers and
“Shannon has lived this as a mom, as a singleparent mom, as someone who has been homeless, as someone who has
struggled,” Howell said.
“And for the singleparent moms, and also the singleparent fathers, her story resonates with them because she doesn’t tell
it from a perspective of judging others for a situation they are in; it’s, ‘This is the reality. However, I didn’t let that be the
end of my story.’”
Gonzales is in a better place now. She got promoted and is able to provide for herself and her daughter without the Snack
“I remember there was moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “I see a bright future. We’re no
longer on the program, but when I hear stories, and when I see Snack Pak 4 Kids, I smile because I know that program is
making a difference.”
Alvin Sharp, 72, is a father, a husband, and a selfmade millionaire as the founder of Sharp Dealership in Amarillo. He,
too, has known hunger.
Growing up, sometimes things were OK, Sharp explained. When his dad was sober and was able to work, things were
better — not great, but better.
Sharp’s mother, he said, was the only thing that held the family of seven together. She worked long hours at a laundry
facility, trying to make enough to pay the bills and put food on the table, but the money didn’t always stretch far enough.
“Sometimes you had food, and it seemed like other times you just get what you could find,” he said. “You know, we was
always just scrounging around.”
To him, hunger was standing in line at Salvation Army, ashamed; it was searching for bottles and cans to trade for nickels
“I guess you just felt like there was something wrong with you. You wasn’t proud, I can tell you that. You just felt a little
ashamed, you know?” Sharp said quietly.
Sharp represents an important part of the Snack Pak program, Howell said.
“You’ve got a 72yearold man who went through this at a different time,” Howell said.
“He’s successful in business, and he’s successful in the community, but he doesn’t have the mindset that because he is now
successful, the kids today don’t deserve some help. He’s quite the opposite actually — very motivated and convicted to
remove the barrier that he had, even though he made it.
“That was why he came forward to tell his story, because he doesn’t have to tell his story, but he felt so convicted to give a
voice to kids,” Howell said.
Sharp’s daughter, Jana Toliver, said when she was growing up, her father didn’t often talk about his childhood, but she
picked up on things over the years.
It wasn’t until Toliver became a teacher that she began to truly understand the depth of her father’s childhood struggle.
“It never occurred to me they didn’t have food to eat,” she said.
When she started seeing the students in her classroom struggle through schoolwork after a weekend with little to no food,
she began to understand the extent of poverty. She eventually realized she was witnessing the same lifestyle her own father
had grown up in.
Linda Vaughn has a similar story. Vaughn has lived on “both sides of the tracks,” she said.
“I’ve lived on the very poor side — not even poor, we were ‘po’ — to the very affluent side because my foster mother was a
schoolteacher,” she said.
Linda learned at a young age that education was the only way she could make a better her life for herself. Now, as the
principal on Johnny Allen 6th Grade Campus, she passes that same important lesson on to her students.
To Linda, hunger is the retelling of memories from her childhood, but it’s also a reality she witnesses daily in the halls of
her own school. Because of her own past, she knows what to look for.
Aside from the telltale signs — children who are irritable, sluggish and unable to focus on their studies; students who
make frequent trips to the nurse’s office for stomach aches; kids who stuff their pockets with food to bring home to their
younger siblings — identifying hunger is like a sixth sense to Vaughn.
“You can just see it in their eyes,” she said. “You know. You just know instantly, this kid does not have enough to eat.”
Vaughn, Sharp, Toliver, Stanley and Gonzales all think programs like Snack Pak 4 Kids provide more than just food for
kids; they provide hope.
“I’m a big believer in Snack Pak 4 Kids,” Stanley said. “It’s going to have a huge impact; it already has, but it’s going to
have an even bigger impact on our community’s kids. I’m excited about seeing what else happens with it. I really feel like
it could change so many kids’ lives, and their futures.”
For more information about the Snak Pak 4 Kids program, visit snackpak4kids.org.