Through no fault of their own, 27% of the children in McLennan County experience “food insecurity” on a regular basis, as in going hungry. Roughly one in four kids in our county is not assured adequate nutrition over the weekend.

That’s why Jane Bounds and Cliff Reese resolved to do something about it. Over a cup of coffee, they mapped out a plan some 8½ years ago to address this need. And thus Pack of Hope was born.

From Friday afternoon after lunch till breakfast back at school Monday morning, 66 long hours tick away. The Pack of Hope provides supplemental food — enough to banish the hunger pangs that make it hard to sleep or makes you cranky. Each pack contains a bottle of water, fresh fruits, a balanced mix of nutritious snacks and protein-packed goodies that will supplement a child’s diet till Monday’s breakfast.

Pack of Hope has zero costs on overhead. The only cost comes in the price of single-serving, nutritious food items we cannot get donated. These items are packed in small plastic sacks every Tuesday night. Packs are delivered to schools on Thursday. On Friday afternoons, students drop by the counselor’s office to tuck the Packs of Hope into their backpacks. These snacks will provide a safety net for those who might miss a meal over the weekend.

None of us picked his or her parents. A child’s primary job is to attend school and get an education so he or she can become a productive member of our society. They do not have the resources to work themselves out of food insecurity, so it’s up to caring adults like Jane, Cliff and all the volunteers at Pack of Hope to furnish a solution.

Through grant-writing and fundraising, Pack of Hope has been able to expand its services to more than just Waco Independent School District. In the beginning only several hundred students in one school district benefited. Now the program yields more than 1,000 packs for elementary and middle school students in 19 school districts. Since 2012, Axtell ISD, Bosqueville ISD, Bruceville/Eddy ISD, China Spring ISD, Connally ISD, Crawford ISD, EOAC of Waco, Gholson ISD, Hallsburg ISD, Harmony, La Vega ISD, Lorena ISD, Mart ISD, McGregor ISD, Moody ISD, Riesel ISD, Robinson ISD, West ISD and Rapoport Academy have become full-fledged partners in the program, helping organize food drives and volunteering to pack.

Every year, too, there’s a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. This is where you come in. It’s hosted by Poppa Rollo’s Pizza . All the food that is prepared and served is donated by the Duty family and their generous suppliers. Justin Duty and Caleb Duty and other Duty kids volunteer and help prepare and serve these spaghetti dinners for folks, both those sitting down with us and those wanting their meals to go.

And 100% of the cost of your ticket goes to Pack of Hope to purchase food for local children.

Some 20 years ago, back when I taught public school, a young lady in one of my classes matter-of-factly reminded me of the grim reality that some among us face. One afternoon my class was talking about what everybody was doing that weekend. Going to a movie, one kid said. Visiting Grandma, another offered. Going to Sam’s Club, this particular child said. As class broke up to go home, I asked the student why heading to Sam’s Club was such a big deal.

“Well, when we’re running out of groceries,” she explained casually, “we go to Sam’s and go up and down the aisles like we’re shopping and get those little food samples they offer you. You can eat a meal that way!”

We laughed and she left for the weekend. Yet whenever I’m at Sam’s Club I have never looked at those little samples in quite the same way.

Many families in McLennan County struggle to make ends meet. Some weeks it’s a medical bill. Some weeks it’s the rent. And then there are groceries that have to be stretched from payday to payday. In a country so full of bounty as the United States, no one should ever go hungry — especially children.

Join us at our spaghetti dinner Tuesday, Feb. 11. Go to http://packofhope.org/donate and make a donation to provide food for a child. Host a food drive at your place of work. Volunteer your time to help pack the food. The people of Pack of Hope are doing just what everyone says we should: We should help our own. We should help our neighbors. Doing good here at home seems the right thing to do.

Former classroom teacher Mary Duty is co-owner of Poppa Rollo’s Pizza. The Feb. 11 Pack of Hope fundraiser is 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Poppa Rollo’s Pizza. Tickets are $20 each for adults, $15 for children under 12.

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