Meet Irene. She has been working as the community school coordinator of her school for the last 24 years. “This school, the students – this is where my heart and soul are at. If you told me today, ‘Irene, you could get a job at any school you want,’ I would say ‘no, I want to be here.’” Irene explained.
That’s why it was so difficult to see her community, which was already very much in need, be hit hard by the pandemic, economic crisis, rising food costs, and inflation over the past few years.
The blows just seemed to keep coming, but Irene and her school stood strong and stepped in where they could.
“The kids that learn here come with issues that you’d never dream of. And for many of them, the biggest challenge is getting food and many of the parents who work in local restaurants were let go or had their hours cut significantly as businesses shut down. And in many cases, that income was already paycheck-to-paycheck,” Irene shared.
But Irene and her school are determined to ensure that their children and families wouldn’t go hungry no matter what came their way. “We are a part of this community. We love it too much to see anything take it down. So we took action,” she recalled.
The middle school has partnered with the food bank to distribute food most Saturdays for the past 20 years, but the need has grown tremendously. Since then, they’ve been getting even more food from the food bank.
They also started distributing free lunches and breakfasts to kids outside the school every day, so that even when school is closed, kids are still able to eat.
But the bottom line is this: kids shouldn’t have to worry about going to bed hungry. They shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from. If kids’ stomachs are growling, they’re not going to be thinking about homework, or which projects are due.
Through everything, Irene has seen courage. “I see strength. I see togetherness. And that’s most important – because together, with the food bank, hunger is one obstacle we can remove from our children and our families. And in the face of hardship, that gives me incredible hope.”
As another school year starts, we are able to reflect back with Irene about how far we’ve come. It hasn’t been easy but seeing her kids happy faces on the first day of school makes it all worth it.
We are so grateful for Irene and teachers, faculty, and staff of our Middle and West Tennessee schools for always being there for our children and going above and beyond to ensure they are full, focused, and thriving.