As a new teacher at Balsz Elementary last year, I was excited to lead a classroom of students and couldn’t wait to start changing lives. The area includes many low-income families with a broad mix of populations - from Burmese to Kenyan, and Somali refugees. I knew I’d face language and cultural challenges, but did not anticipate hunger to be the biggest. And they weren’t just hungry.
My students lacked access to the quality food and nutrition needed to be alert or learn.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I got word about WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks, a supplemental nutrition program through Valley of the Sun United Way. Unfortunately, only a few of my students were identified to receive a backpack. But I knew they all needed extra food, so I began rotating backpacks among students each week. Not an ideal situation, but at least more students would have a better chance to succeed.
This year, I saw student hunger in my class increase tenfold! I constantly heard “my stomach hurts,” and “I have to go to the bathroom.” But I knew they hadn’t eaten well in a day or had a vegetable in maybe a week or more. Some had even gotten to a point where they don’t eat vegetables at all.
Every child in my class deserved to thrive. So I stood up for my kids by taking a stand against hunger and made sure all 27 students received backpacks to help their young brains develop. There was even a lesson in it for them, too.
By advocating for my students, they’ve learned they have a voice and that they can stand up for themselves and others. They’ve also learned compassion. They now look at people who have less than them say “we need to help them.”
WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks give my students a mental break while letting them know someone’s looking out for them. Because of you, they’ll also grow up to be well-nourished, successful and compassionate individuals.