TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Every year there are close to 400,000 East Texans who don't know where their next meal is coming from. The East Texas Food Bank is trying to change that, naming September Hunger Action Month. The month focuses on programs and steps people can take to give food to those who need it most.
Friday afternoon at Douglas Elementary meant it was time to pack up for the weekend. More important than books were the backpacks filled with bags of food, courtesy of East Texas Food Banks fill a backpack program.
"It's reality is what we see," said Christy Roach, Principal of Douglas Elementary. "We see children that often go home hungry."
Close to 150 students at Douglas elementary will be given the bags filled with items like, juice, cereal, and other healthy snacks lasting them through the weekend.
"This is really meeting those basic needs before those academic needs can be met," said Roach.
And, plenty of children share those needs, the Food Bank reports one in four East Texas children are victims of hunger. Thousands of students at more than 40 East Texas locations have been fed in the program's four year history, but the problem of childhood hunger is not a new one.
Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith knew hunger as a child in rural Arkansas.
"There's been numerous days in my life when I was a child where all we had to eat was popcorn," said the sheriff.
The oldest of six siblings, Smith left home at 17. Now, at age 66, the aftermath of a hungry youth remains.
"Every meal I eat I want to eat every shred on that plate because I remember what's it's like not knowing if I was going to have anything to eat the following day," said Smith.
$4 fills a backpack with food a child may not get otherwise. At Douglas Elementary, students leave with homework, but faculty hopes the hungry come back to class with a full stomach.
"We have to meet the needs first of the children their own personal needs because if you're hungry you can't learn, you can't concentrate," said Roach. "What you're thinking about is, 'What I want to eat next.'"