Hawks Helping Hawks program feeds hungry students
By Mike Courson
Being a middle schooler has always been tough. Being a hungry teenager makes school even more difficult. Former Hoisington High School teacher Deanna Clark is going above and beyond to ease hunger pains in Garden City with the Hawks Helping Hawks program.
Clark, better known as Miss Spears during her three years teaching at Hoisington, moved west after getting married. She now teaches seventh-grade English and English as a Second Language at Horace Good Middle School in Garden City.
With nearly 8,000 students spread across 17 schools, USD 457 is the ninth-largest school district in Kansas. It differs from some larger districts in its diversity. “There are 27 languages spoken in our school district, and many different nationalities,” Clark said. “Being such a diverse district, we have many families who have come from other countries looking for a better life. Many of those families, as well as our other local families, are very low income. Hunger is a real issue here.”
Hawks Helping Hawks came about accidentally. For an icebreaker during the first week of school, Clark had her students introduce themselves to one another. One of the prompts in the activity was for the students to group with others who at the same thing for breakfast. Out of more than 100 of her students, fewer than 10 percent said they ate breakfast.
Clark took that statistic as a call to action. “I’ve had some success with the site Donors Choose, so I decided to create a project for breakfast bars to have on hand for my kids,” she said. “It was funded almost immediately, and I told my students that I would always have food on hand if they were hungry.”
Clark did not stop there. She posted about her desire to collect other types of nutritious snacks on social media. A coworker told Clark to contact Anthony Ortiz, a social studies teacher at Horace Good.
“His mentoring class had come up with the idea to create a ‘Hawk Pantry’ where kids would have access to food,” Clark said. “We got together and the project exploded basically overnight. I created another Donors Choose project for healthy snacks that was fully funded in less than 30 minutes.
“I have donations coming in from friends and family for snacks for the kids. I have also created a third project for even more snacks, which is live on their website.”
The response has been overwhelming. Not only are monetary and snack donations flooding in, but other teachers have expressed interest in the idea, and media outlets are sharing the story.
“I have been overwhelmed by all the people who have reached out asking how they can help,” said Clark. “I’ve heard from people who have gone through exactly what my students are going through, and want to ensure others don’t go through the same struggles.
“Anthony and I met with our district nutritionist to talk about how to incorporate the pantry without overstepping our bounds with the state and USDA. We are also working on incentives to get our students to eat the school-offered breakfast, as well.”
Clark is also pleased to report her students are excited about helping out as well. “Our kids want to help one another,” she said, “and those who need the resources are asking for them.”
USD 457 is hardly alone in the fight against hunger. Finney County ranks in the bottom one-third of per-capita income in the state according to 2010 Census figures, and many Central and Western Kansas counties fare even worse than Finney.
“I would encourage every educator to take a close look at your students,” Clark said. “I’ve been teaching for 14 years, and it’s so easy to miss the signs if you aren’t asking the right questions.”
So far, the Hawk Pantry is just in its infancy. Clark sees the program expanding as more stores and churches get involved with donations. Social media is helping the cause.
“We would even like to be able to sponsor other schools in our district, starting with beginning pantries in different elementary schools,” Clark said. “All we need are good people who want to help our children. Being a kid is hard enough without having an empty stomach, too.”
Study after study has shown adverse affects on hungry students at school. For Clark, Hawks Helping Hawks is just one more way to help students learn.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything any other educator wouldn’t do,” she said. “I don’t know a single teacher who hasn’t purchased food and school supplies out of his or her own pockets to help students. I just want to make a difference for these kids, and it’s time to stand up and do so.”
To read more about Hawks Helping Hawks or to make a donation, visit https://www.donorschoose.org/project/hawks-helping-hawks/