CENTRAL TEXAS — There's a sign on the wall at The Shepherd's Heart that reads "Sometimes you need a helping hand."
For twelve years, the pantry has been that helping hand for so many hungry families in the Waco area. But executive director Robert Gager wants to take their efforts to new heights by bringing food to the schools.
"Solve a problem right here. And we don't have to look at it as the whole Waco area," said Gager. "Let's take it one school at a time."
Waco High School approached Gager with an idea: establishing a food pantry inside the school. After some collaboration, Gager and the school developed a model. Getting it off the ground would never have been possible without the resources of The Shepherd's Heart's new building. The facility comes with much greater storage space and the ability to load and unload trucks directly.
"It was one of the things that we could not have done in our previous location," said Gager. "And we're so grateful to be in this building right now because we have the capability to meet more needs."
The pantry at Waco High School sits in a dedicated room and is monitored by school staff. Less-fortunate students are able to get snacks during the day, and they can bring food home with them for dinner, a meal they might not otherwise get.
"We really don't know what kids are going through. You go to school, you can eat," said intake specialist Raveonne Allen. "But what are you doing when you go home? We just want to make sure that everybody gets something to eat."
Allen got involved at The Shepherd's Heart when her son told her about the pantry at Waco High School. Pantries have since been adopted at University and Brazos High School, and she says she's excited to see the growth happening.
"To be able to do so, it is great that we're expanding," Allen said. "We're running out of space."
Gager doesn't want to stop at three schools. His vision is to introduce food to schools of all grade levels in the Waco area. Gager grew up in a similar environment and knows what it's like to go through the school day while hungry. He's also motivated knowing that the food insecurity in Waco is double the national average. Seeing the idea becoming a reality will take a lot more manpower and donations, but he's confident it can happen.
"Once you get it moving, and it gains some momentum. It just starts to take over on its own sort of thing," Gager said. "It's got some initiative. That's what we need to do."
More meetings will take place in January to figure out which schools will be the best fit for the next pantries. Eventually, there will be only so many food supplies to go around, and it also takes volunteers to help operate the pantries. The Shepherd's Heart will hope to fill those gaps in the coming weeks. After all, there's no such thing as too many helping hands.