TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The East Texas Food Bank has partnered with local schools to combat student hunger.

Many East Texas schools have free or reduced-price meals. For some children their school cafeteria is the only place they are fed. 

The East Texas Food Bank CEO, Dennis Cullinane, shares how they partner with local schools to ensure children do not go hungry. 

“We think it’s very important to help the families that are in need to be able to make sure kids have proper nutrition when they’re out of school,” said Cullinane. 

The East Texas Food Bank has a backpack program designed to close the hunger gap by providing meals for these children on weekends and holidays. 

One of the schools the food bank is partnered with is Bell Elementary. Kim Collum is the Bell Elementary School Counselor, and she spoke about how hunger can impact children. 

“If they come into the classroom hungry that’s what they’re going to be focused on. Making sure that need is met is not only going to help with their academic development but also their behavior and overall growth,” said Collum. 

The backpacks are filled with nutritious foods, including cereal, juice and canned vegetables. 

“Well, we were very fortunate because we were able to feed over 8,000 children last year. Over 182,000 backpacks were served by the East Texas Food Bank,” said Cullinane.

Faculty members at school campuses select children to take part in the program on a need-based assessment. Once those children join, they receive backpacks every Friday to help feed them over the weekend. 

“At our campus, we serve approximately 115 students. It helps close that hunger gap by providing that bridge,” said Collum. 

According to the East Texas Food Bank, one in four children is food insecure in East Texas. 

“That’s really not acceptable, and those families really need to ensure they have that nutrition base because they cannot perform and they cannot succeed if they do not have that strong nutritional base,” said Cullinane.

The East Texas Food Bank feeds children across 26 counties with the backpack program and they are partnered with 149 schools.

To volunteer with East Texas Food Bank, you can sign up here.

KETK is holding a virtual food drive with the East Texas Food Bank. To donate, go to this link.

For more information on Hunger Action Month, visit this website.