By Mollie Bryant
Snack Pak 4 Kids, an initiative to fight childhood hunger among mostly elementary school-age students in the Texas Panhandle, expanded to Austin Middle School in March with its Snack Shak program. Each Friday during the school year, students identified by teachers and counselors as being food insecure receive a backpack filled with snacks to carry them through weekends, when food might be scarce.
Austin principal David Vincent said about 55 students at his school participate in the program, which provides more adult-portioned foods than packages for elementary students, which might include oatmeal or spaghetti and meatballs.
“We felt like students get breakfast and lunch here, but over the weekend, there may not be an adequate supply of food at their homes, so this is a good resource for them,” Vincent said. “We’ve had comments from parents (who) appreciate this, and it makes a difference in the kids is the main thing. If kids are hungry, they can’t learn.”
Austin counselor Tiffany Fisk said distraction is common in kids who do not get enough to eat.
“They have a harder time focusing when they’re hungry,” she said. “That’s something we ask them to do every period, and that’s difficult when they’re feeling sluggish and sleepy.”
Volunteers assemble backpacks filled with food once a week at Covenant Presbyterian Church, and they are delivered to Austin Middle School on Thursday, when the backpacks are placed in students’ lockers to take home with them the next day.
Before the program began, all students at the school were given the WT backpacks that are used to transport the food, enhancing the privacy of students involved.
“Just because you have (a backpack) doesn’t mean you’re on the program,” Snack Pak founder Dyron Howell said. “We don’t know if we’ve fully done it where 100 percent of the students are not identified, but it was the most creative solution we could come up with, and we thought we’d give it a shot.”
Vincent said the approach helps kids make use of the program without being singled out by their peers.
“We want to honor their situation, and we don’t want to make an example of them and point them out, but we also want to meet their needs,” he said.
Snack Pak 4 Kids, which began in September 2010, serves over 3,000 students in 17 school districts in the Texas Panhandle. Shack Pak also has a presence at Travis Middle School and Tascosa High School, Howell said.
According to a survey of about 500 Amarillo Independent School District teachers last year, 78 percent said they saw an improvement in academic performance and 72 percent saw behavior improvements in students involved in the program.
Fisk said students in the Snack Shak program have better attitudes, are more motivated and seem happier to be at school.