By Paige Atwell
It’s no secret that Williamson County is home to some of the best school systems in the country, both private and public. Through community outreach, extra curriculars and exemplary faculty and staff, it seems as though these students have everything they need to succeed at their fingertips. Unfortunately, however, a student’s home life can often interfere with their academic success.
Over 5,000 students in the Williamson County are on free or reduced lunch. While this program helps them during the week, they sometimes lack proper nutrition during weekends or holiday breaks. Luckily, this is where the GraceWorks Fuel Bag program comes into play.
Each week, GraceWorks partners with local schools to provide students with “fuel bags” to take home for the weekend. The bags are packaged up by GraceWorks volunteers and are discreetly slipped into the children’s backpacks by teachers.
“The kids on free or reduced lunch are at a higher risk for hunger over the weekend, so we want to make sure we equip the schools or teachers to send them home with something,” explains GraceWorks Director of Development, Alicia Bell. “We don’t know these children that receive these bags. We don’t track them. We leave it to the discretion of the teachers and work with PTO’s and volunteers to get them picked up.”
For the teachers that’s see these kids every day, it’s easy to see the large impact it has on their attitudes and willingness to learn. "One particular student was very lethargic due to hunger,” says a local teacher. “Once he received fuel bags, we noticed that he was much more energetic and was able to sit up and listen and learn in class."
Each fuel bag consists of nutritious and easily prepared food items as well as fruit. While this may not seem like a lot to some, the difference it can make in a child’s life who is experiencing hunger or trouble at home is tremendous.
"I have one student who has little money, neither parent has a job, and he has little adult supervision,” explains a Williamson County teacher. “The fuel bag program gave him something to work for. He seemed to come out of his shell and started talking to me. We developed a positive working relationship that allowed me to encourage him to do his best. His behavior has improved, and he does a much better job of turning in his homework. I believe the fuel bag program played a big part in encouraging this student."
While their Fuel Bag Program continues to make a difference, GraceWorks is always looking to see what more they can do to help. By maintaining strong relationships with teachers, GraceWorks identified another hunger problem present in schools they wanted to tackle this year: snack time.
“We had teachers tell us that they love the fuel bags and they are making a difference, but during snack time, they don’t bring a snack,” explains Alicia. “These teachers, with their beautiful hearts, were spending their own money or running out of their classroom budget just trying to feed the kids. So, we said, ‘let’s see what we can do!’”
The Snack Pack Program was created to fill this void. Each week, GraceWorks strives to provide some of these same teachers a box of snacks they can keep in their desk to give to children who aren’t able to bring their own.
While the Fuel Bag program and GraceWorks have been able to provide over 24,000 bags a year to serve over 700 students in Williamson County, there is still so much room to grow. While volunteers are important, the most crucial aspect to continue expanding the program is donations. Whether it be monetary or food, having more resources is what will ultimately allow GraceWorks to feed even more children in 2019.
“Get your church, club etc. to do a drive. Call us and we can help you make it a huge success,” explains Alicia. “It’s a fun way to make a difference. You’re not only feeding someone, but you’re helping them perform better in school. As soon as they walk in on Monday, they’re more prepared.”
To learn more about GraceWorks, The Fuel Bag Program and how you can help, visit graceworksministries.net.