Summer is not a joyous time for all Henderson County students. For some it is a time of family vacations and a much needed break. For others it is a season of stress where they have to worry about very grown-up problems, how will I eat? The problem leaves some parents wondering how they will feed their children three meals a day. The sad reality is that there are children in our community who only get a meal at school.

Eustace Primary School hosted a roundtable discussion about the successes and feedback from local participants in a pilot program this summer which included Henderson County called Meals to You

Eustace ISD, the USDA and the Texas Hunger Initiative met with recipients, community members and leaders to see where the program went right and where it needed adjustment.

Some schools offer summer feeding programs, but what about the children without transportation? If they do have transportation, it’s still hard on commuting from rural areas twice a day, which can be cost prohibitive. Eustace students from Payne Springs, or other outlying areas, are at an even greater disadvantage and participate less.

“There is no denying that the Meals to You program fills a void,” a USDA participant said.

Clearly something needed to be done. 

When Craig Nash, of Texas Hunger Initiative contacted Dr. Coy Holcombe about the unique pilot program, Holcombe was in full support and got the ball rolling. Within days the district became one of about 20 districts in east and west Texas to participate in the program. 

“A hungry child cannot learn,” Holcombe said.

Meals to You is a program offered through funding by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services. It contracted Texas Hunger Initiative, which coordinates and connects groups to implement the program and make it effective. After identifying counties and students eligible it subcontracted with McLean Global, the food provider who put feet to the program. Each week a box including the equivalent of five breakfasts, lunches and snacks per student arrive at their door via UPS. The box contains enough food for each child to last about a week.

Eustace ISD is made up of a varied group of children with 65-70% of them qualifying for free or reduced lunches. Children come back from summer vacation at a deficit without proper nutrition.This causes hardships for both teachers and students. When adequate nutrition is available to them, they have the opportunity to come back strong and eager.

“Kids don't learn on an empty stomach,” said Brandon Lipps, of the USDA Washington said, “I understand rural communities and I understand rural hunger and I take that perspective to Washington.”

“It was like Christmas morning,” one mother said. 

She said her children were so excited and some shared what little they had with other children in the neighborhood who had even less.

Without this program the main alternative is food banks. As one mother pointed out, with no air conditioning in her car the act of driving to get food in the summer heat is an obstacle in itself.

“For it (the food) to come right to my door was helpful.” one mom said.

As hard as it is to fathom in a country like America some children only get to eat when they are at school. Henderson County is made up of an extremely varied group of children.This year Eustace ISD will offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to all grade levels, which is a huge plus for low income families. 

Schools will have information mid spring, be on the lookout for ways to participate next year. If you are eligible children 2-18 years old may participate. All food is shelf-stable. 

“When we work together we can solve a lot of these problems,” said Jeremy Everett, Executive Director of Texas Hunger Initiative.

“I’ve worked with these programs 25 years,” one team member said. “Urban areas are fairly easy to implement these programs, rural areas are harder to reach. it’s great to hear how well it worked. We had a very short time to implement it.” 

“It takes a strong leader to step up and say this is what we’re going to do for the good of this community. Thank you for stepping into this role,” another said of Holcombe

If you are in need during the summer and have a child in Henderson County plans are already in the works for next summer.

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