Joshua Community Guide 2020 - Page 15

Feeding the hungry E FUMC Joshua supplies backpacks of food for JISD students in need nsuring children have full bellies so they can focus on their school work is the goal for one local church. Five years ago, First United Methodist Church of Joshua created its Backpack- s4Kids program to keep Joshua ISD students and their families from going hungry throughout the school year in partnership with the Tarrant Area Food Bank. When FUMC Senior Pastor Dale Wilbanks started in his position seven years ago, he con- ducted a survey asking church members how they should help the community. “This church has a heart for kids,” Wilbanks said. “We have access to a company called, Mission Insight, that gives you all kinds of information about communities. I found out that 51 percent of our kids were food insecure.” They didn’t know what it was going to take or how they were going to pay for it, he said, but they knew they wanted to help. Shortly after the survey, they began providing food to students in need at the JISD elementary school that had the most number of “food insecure” students, he said. They now serve over 100 students in five of the district’s campuses. The food students receive during the school year doesn’t have to be refrigerated or cooked. Every child in the home under 17 years old receives a backpack of food, he said. The church works with counselors at each of the campuses to ensure the students are fed. In the beginning, the church covered most of the costs. Now, about 50 percent of the program is cov- ered by community members, he said. “It’s truly a partnership,” he said. “We’ve had five years of building trust in the community.” A culmination of that trust brought the church’s Taste of Grace food trailer, he said, which will be used to feed lunches to families in need over the summer. Because of privacy laws, church officials don’t have access to the students’ addresses, but their goal is to travel to many different neighbor- hoods over the summer to reach as many children as they can, FUMC Discipleship & Outreach Direc- tor Nicole Hutchinson said. The students they’ve helped with the program are progressing well in school by earning good grades and having less behavioral problems, Wil- banks said. “Our hunger is different in our country than a third-world country,” he said. “But when a kid’s hungry, they’re not going to be studying. They’re not going to be paying attention to the teacher. If we can feed them, hopefully that will be a battle won.” JISD Superintendent Fran Marek said Backpack- s4Kids is one of the best programs for their students that she’s ever seen. “It allows our students to have nutritious meals on the weekends and during school holidays, ulti- mately preventing hunger in our students,” Marek said. “Hunger prevents students from growing and developing appropriately for their age, which in turn affects successful learning. Backpacks4Kids provides students the opportunity to be healthy and successful learners.” The plan for the future, Wilbanks said, is to pos- sibly send students home with some items in bulk to ensure they have something for the whole family. Instead of giving them a personal box of cereal, they may give them a whole box of cereal, he said. They’re still working out the details with the TAFB, he said. “It is the premiere program we do at the church,” he said about Backpacks4Kids. “It’s our most visible [program] in the community. That one program has allowed us to be in the community more than we would have been if we didn’t have it. “The kids that get the backpacks, they don’t know us, but they do know that there’s someone who cares enough to do that. The parents know that it comes from a church and the counselors know.” For more information about Backpacks4Kids, visit