One of the things I have learned a lot about the last couple of years is hunger. I always thought I was aware of hunger and the needs of people in our community. But working in the schools has opened my eyes to see and understand "food Insecurity" in a whole new way. I have seen firsthand it’s impact on learning, child development, social/emotional skills, and self- esteem. I have seen the faces and heard the voices of kids as they came to school without having eaten that morning, or the night before. I have heard testimonies from their teachers who go above and beyond to make sure no child sits in class hungry. Sometimes that means allowing them to go to the cafeteria for breakfast even if they arrive to school late. Sometimes it means giving them their own lunch or snacks. Sometimes it means creating a food pantry in your classroom so kids can come get something to eat if they need it. Or giving out backpacks at the end of the day with food to take home. No matter how old someone is, hunger is heart breaking.

I think what really took hold of my heart in a vice grip that would not let go was a story from a teacher who had a small child tell her he did not want to have Christmas Break. What child doesn’t look forward to a break from school? He was so sad at the thought of not getting to come to school and see his teacher and his friends every day. And most of all…at school there was breakfast and lunch each day. At home, there wasn’t.

Our district wanted to help so our Food Service Department created the "Breakfast Boxes." Each box contains enough food for breakfast for each day of the school break. The foods are just like what the kids eat in the cafeteria. They even include fresh fruit and shelf stable milk for each day. This year’s "Breakfast Boxes" for Christmas will include enough food for 11 days of breakfast, plus thanks to the generosity of Acxiom, two pre-packaged and easily-prepared lunch/dinner meals of Cheesy Rice and Vegetables.

Last year we sent home 475 boxes at Christmas in our first time doing them. This year we have 550 requests. (The requests are made by School Counselors at each of our schools who know our kids and families.) We also helped more than 500 families with "Breakfast Boxes" at Thanksgiving. We will do the same for Spring Break. These are making a difference in all these families and in the lives of our students. They will leave school feeling loved and valued and a little more "safe," knowing they have food to eat. It is a big effort, yet just a small part of our "Culture of Caring" that we strive to provide here in Conway Schools.

I have been so humbled at the response from people in our district and our community who have embraced this program and supported it financially. We’ve received envelope after envelope with donations- church groups, kids saving their allowance, businesses big and small, Conway teachers and staff, all eager to help our students. Our Food Service team has managed the project with vigor- rolling up their sleeves and assembling the hundreds of boxes with care to make sure each student had exactly what he needed. Last year the bags of fruit were even decorated with a Wampus Cat Christmas wreath! It’s in these details, these efforts, that we hope our students will see and remember that someone cares for them. No one should have to wonder if they will have something to eat when they are not at school.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not." – The Lorax.

Each Breakfast Box costs around $16.00. If you are interested in donating to the Breakfast Boxes, you can mail a check or bring a cash donation to the Conway Public Schools Food Service Department, 1902 Hairston, Conway, AR 72034.

Heather Kendrick is the Communication Specialist for Conway Public Schools. Contact her at (501) 450-4800. Get more information at www.conwayschools.org.