Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him. ~Albert Schweitzer
Earlier this month, we highlighted Ezell Harding Christian School outside Nashville and its yearlong Make-A-Wish service project (http://blog.parkersu.com/2012/07/06/making-wishes-come-true/). Ezell Harding is a great example of how one person (or a group of people) can turn good intentions into fantastic results. We recently met a Parker mom who is doing just that here in Houston.
Melissa Peter is the mother of a student at Grace School (http://www.graceschool.org/) and an active member of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, both located on Houston’s west side. Last fall, she, and a group of ladies from Holy Spirit, took a prayer tour through the 3rd Ward of Houston. Located just a couple of miles from downtown Houston, the 3rd Ward is one of the city’s most disadvantaged areas. The group passed Blackshear Elementary School during the tour and learned about the difficulties that many of the school’s students face.
A Houston Independent School District school serving 425 pre-K through 5th Grade students, Blackshear is located in what the Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) calls a food desert. Designated by the USDA, food deserts are areas where residents have limited access to healthy and affordable food. Food deserts can be a problem in both urban and rural settings. Follow this link to learn more or to search for food deserts in your area: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-desert-locator.aspx. You might be surprised by what you find.
At Blackshear, 98% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Couple that with the school’s location in a designated food desert, and you’ve got a situation where many children are eating the majority of their meals each week at school. It begs the question — what do they eat during the weekend? That is exactly the thought that bothered Peter for weeks after the tour. Like most of us though, she had no idea what she could do to help.
In February, she randomly picked up a People Magazine in the doctor’s office and saw an article about an organization called Blessings in a Backpack (http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20567152,00.html). According to its website, the mission of Blessings in a Backpack (http://www.blessingsinabackpack.org/) is to “ensure impoverished elementary school children are fed on the weekends and throughout the school year.” Amazingly, it takes only $80 to provide weekend food for one student during the school year. That works out to $2.10 a weekend for 38 weekends. Blessings in a Backpack provides the backpacks and local volunteers fill them with healthy food to send home with the students each weekend. Even better, 100% of all donations made to the organization go to feeding children. It seemed Peter had found her answer.
Not one to procrastinate, Peter had officially registered with the national organization by March. Blessings in a Backpack requires a Program Coordinator (Peter) and a Grocery Partner. The organization also requires a 3-year commitment and a minimum fundraising total of $4,000/year, enough to cover at least 50 students. Now operating locally under the name Shear Blessings, Peter and her wonderful group of family, friends and neighbors have already raised over $8,000 through neighborhood parties, corporate donations and youth activities. She also recently secured a local Walmart store (Supercenter Store #3640) as Shear Blessings’ Grocery Partner.
Although Peter’s main focus at Blackshear will always be providing healthy food for the students, she has also come to realize there are many other ways to help the school itself. She and her group of volunteers have already provided two teacher appreciation lunches (with another scheduled to kick-off the school year) and revamped the school’s library with the help of the youth group from Holy Spirit. Because Blessings in a Backpack only covers the cost of food, Peter is also looking for groups to provide toilet paper, toothpaste and other much needed household items throughout the school year.
Peter is still not quite certain how everything will come together in terms of sorting and delivering the food. But after speaking to her and seeing her amazing progress to date, we are confident that Shear Blessings is well on its way. Just 7-months after she first picked up the People magazine, Peter’s group will make their first backpack delivery to the students at Blackshear on September 7. If you live in the Houston area and would like more information or to volunteer for Shear Blessings, you may email the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope that many of you will be inspired by the examples of Melissa Peter and Ezell Harding Christian School. It is so easy and so rewarding to help others. Someone needs your help. Go find them.