By Ernie Williamson
When she was a kid, Terri Willis went to school in Lake Jackson hungry and without needed supplies.
Her teacher one day asked why Terri wasn’t in proper attire. Willis replied that her family didn’t have the money.
Days later, the teacher bought Terri a new pair of tennis shoes.
Willis has never forgotten that kindness. She knows poverty.
Now, as CEO and executive director of the Brazoria County Dream Center, Willis directs programs to help low-income families.
Backpack Buddies, a program to feed needy students, is close to her heart because it helps children. Willis gets emotional talking about the success of Backpack Buddies.
“What my elementary school teacher did, spoke volumes to me,” she says.
Begun in 2009, the Backpack Buddies program provides nutritional food and snacks to children who are hungry for food over the weekend. The program fills in the gap where school programs end.
That first year as a pilot program Backpack Buddies served 17 kids in 1 school.
This past school year Backpack Buddies served 550 students in 31 schools across six Brazoria County districts.
Students must be referred by a teacher or counselor to qualify for the weekend food program.
School officials are given information on how to spot a child who might be hungry.
A child may horde food, ask friends for food or even dig through trash cans.
The child may suffer headaches, miss lots of school, be extremely irritable or unable to concentrate.
Children whose parents lose jobs or have a death in the family are always worth watching carefully.
The food for the program comes from the Houston Food Bank, corporate donations, grants and food drives in schools.
Each Thursday morning during the school year, volunteers deliver bags of food to school counselors. The food is then distributed to waiting students Friday morning.
Each 8-10-pound bag contains enough food to give the student six meals for the weekend.
“I have had a teacher tell me she has seen parents cry when their child is referred into our program,” Willis says.
The upcoming school year presents a new challenge for Willis and the program.
For the last two years, most students in local districts have received free meals from Covid funds. That funding is scheduled to stop this year, so parents whose children haven’t had to pay for meals for two years will have to start paying, possibly putting more of a burden on the Backpack Buddies program.
Not content with the success of the Backpack Buddies weekend program, Willis and the Dream Center have started a summer feeding program.
For all this, we can thank a kind teacher who helped a kid out years ago.
(Contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)