Food for Thought: New program started to help feed students on weekends

Published 11:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2021

People with food aplenty in their pantries may have a hard time swallowing this. As many as 9,000 Calcasieu Parish students may not be getting enough food to eat over the weekend.

“In the state, 25 percent of students from public schools live in a food-insecure household. In Calcasieu Parish, the number is 31 percent,” according to DeWanna Tarver.

Tarver is the heart and hands behind DeWanna’s Community Closet, a non-profit that, for the past five years, has been supplying school uniforms for Calcasieu Parish children who need them. The weekend food feeding program — Food for Thought — will work similarly in that school teachers and administrators will apprise the organization of the number of students who need help.

The program kicked off in early September by feeding 400 students. More will be added as more funds become available.

Food-insecure households, like the price of groceries, are on the increase. Tarver admits that some students aren’t getting enough to eat at home over the weekend because parents just aren’t being parents. But she also said there is a rising need among the working poor who might have to choose between groceries and keeping a roof over their family’s head and the car running. Teachers tell her heart-wrenching stories about how children depend on the weekend program.

Tarver said Jody Farnum at Care Help in Sulphur pioneered the Backpack Blessing program, which is a weekend food program and is doing a great job keeping children fed. Efforts will not be duplicated.

“We’re in our 12th year with Backpack Blessings,” said Farnum. “We are currently helping 564 children. Food for Thought will try to reach the schools that we don’t cover.”

Through Food for Thought, elementary students get food, that’s been weighed beforehand, to take home in a bag that’s placed in their backpack. Middle and high school students choose food from a pantry.

“Every week Food for Thought replenishes the pantry,” Tarver said. “It’s not necessarily the most nutritious food, but it’s affordable, filling, nonperishable food, and it’s what the kids will eat, things like Pop Tarts, breakfast bars, Vienna sausage, cans of ravioli and ramen noodles.”

DeWanna’s Community Closet didn’t have room for such a program in its current setting, so Sale Street Baptist Church stepped in. Food for Thought will use its warehouse. Food for Thought will provide the food, and Sale Street Baptist Church will maintain the building. Church volunteers will bag the food for the backpacks.

Sale Street, First Church of the Nazarene, and First United Methodist Church volunteers are sending cards and notes in the bag that notifies parents there is help available to provide food for a Thanksgiving meal.

“We may not reach them all,” Tarver said. “But we’re going to keep going until we do.”

Others can help by donating nonperishables or money.

It costs Food for Thought $20 per month to feed a child.