T.O. RUSHEON STUDENTS FEED THE HUNGRY
Chances are we have stared a child in the face who is hungry, but did not realize it. It is an invisible problem in many cases. Thousands in Bossier and the six surrounding parishes are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from when school is not in session on weekends and holidays.
It is a harsh life lesson T.O. Rusheon Middle School teacher Claudia Engi's Honors English Language Arts students are learning about firsthand. Not only have they researched poverty and hunger in the United States and Louisiana, but are also learning the power of volunteerism and making a difference in the lives of children just like them.
"I started thinking about this after 9/11," Engi said. "Most people don't realize how much we rely on volunteers."
It was that tragic event that planted the seed Engi has cultivated over the last nine years; to not only teach children about the needs around them but also encourage volunteerism.
Recently about a dozen eighth grade students held a bake sale at school, then donated the $155 they made to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana. They didn't stop there, though. Each student was put to work on the assembly line at the Food Bank, packing kits for the BackPack Program. That program provides 650 local children with a pack of food to take home for the weekend and holidays so they won't have to go hungry.
"I think it opens their eyes about needs and volunteerism. It helps them develop empathy for other students," Engi said.
Engi's students also learned a lack of nutrition affects their peers in a number of ways; not only their health, but it also impacts absenteeism and a child's academic performance at school.
For Dakota Zielinski, it was not only his first visit to the Food Bank; it was the first he had ever heard of its existence. Before Engi's class, he was also not aware so many people are food deprived.
As he helped pack boxed milk, cereal, cheese sticks and crackers, he said "There are a lot more than I thought there were. It's sad to learn how many here are going hungry. I'm hoping it will help them out to have a meal to eat."
Engi's students will return to the Food Bank in the spring to again lend a helping hand, after having another bake sale. They hope to have an even bigger one, raising more money to combat a growing problem.