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Today@Sam Article

Project Works To Help Huntsville's Hungry

Nov. 5, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Morgan

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Associate professor of curriculum and instruction Daphne Johnson (center) and her students are working to obliterate hunger in Walker County by collecting money for the Backpack Buddy Program, which sends students home with enough food to last the weekend. For many local children, this food and the meals they get at school are the only reliable source of nutrition available to them. —Photos by Brian Blalock


A POST-APOCALYPTIC WORLD, rampant political control, families fighting to the finish, teenagers battling each other to the death—this is The Hunger Games. First it was a book that became a best seller; then a best seller that became a box-office-breaking movie.

The world gobbled it up.

It grabbed the attention of Daphne Johnson too, albeit in a different way. To Johnson, department chair and associate professor in curriculum and instruction at Sam Houston State University, hunger is not a game. But riding the wave of pop culture became a way to raise awareness on campus about children going hungry in Huntsville.

Johnson's "Hunger is Not a Game" initiative raises money for the Backpack Buddy Club, a program the Boys and Girls Club of Walker County launched in December 2011 in partnership with the Houston Food Bank. On Fridays, children in need receive a backpack containing two child-friendly, non-perishable breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

"For a lot of kids, it's truly the only thing they have to eat over the weekend," Johnson said.

Like the some of the characters in The Hunger Games, these children, in a way, also have to fight for food.

Michelle Spencer, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Walker County, said 300 members applied for the Backpack Buddy Club last year. But the Boys and Girls Club could only afford to do 50 backpacks a week, so a raffle had to be held each week to determine who would get one.

This bothered Johnson, who started selling stickers to SHSU staff, faculty and students to raise cash for the Boys and Girls Club.

"We wrote the word 'hunger' really big and anyone who bought a sticker put it on the (campus) hunger wall," Johnson said. "We wanted to completely cover the word, to obliterate hunger."

It costs $5 to send one five-pound bag of food home for the weekend. Johnson was able to raise approximately $1,000, which meant the Backpack Buddy Program could offer 65 backpacks a week instead of 50. This year, through the "Hunger is Not a Game" theme, Johnson hopes to raise enough to add another 15 backpacks, bumping the weekly total to 80.

"The Sam Houston College of Education has rallied behind this project because they, too, understand the correlation between learning and eating," Spencer said.

Full hearts fill little tummies

Delanise Taylor, principal of Scott Johnson Elementary School, said more than 70 percent of her students are economically disadvantaged, the highest of all elementary schools in the Huntsville school district.

"Knowing that some of our neediest children will be fed when they are not at school is of great comfort to us," Taylor said. "We appreciate so much the involvement of SHSU in partnering with the Boys and Girls Club to provide for our students."

Not all of the school's students belong to the Boys and Girls Club, Taylor said.

"It takes all of us in the community working together to meet the needs of these children," she said.

Johnson used the popularity of The Hunger Games to show her students that "hunger is not a game."

A little education goes a long way when it comes to raising awareness of hunger, and Karla Eidson begins with a worldwide tour before honing in on Huntsville.

Eidson, assistant professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at SHSU, introduces her students to the topic by showing them photos from Time magazine's "The Hungry Planet."

The slideshow serves as a starting point to begin conversation about world hunger, Eidson said, and they learn to "Think Globally, Act Locally."

"Students have realized that many people surrounding us, in our own communities, truly have third-world problems such as putting food on the table," Eidson said. "We know we can't logistically feed someone in Somalia, but if we forgo our cup of Starbucks this afternoon that's enough for a child in Huntsville to receive a backpack of food for the weekend."

Eidson said her method seems to be making a big impact on students, who have not only been donating in class but taking it back to their own clubs and sororities for additional fundraising.

"It's our desire to help create teachers who are not only outstanding teachers," Eidson said, "but to be sensitive and compassionate human beings."

It seems to be working—one of the reasons Scott Johnson Elementary School Principal Taylor is proud of "Hunger is Not a Game" is because it comes from her alma mater.

Taylor graduated from SHSU with a bachelor's degree in 1980, and again with a master's degree and mid-management certification in 1998.

Maybe's it's also a matter of being a big-hearted Texan, considering Johnson received all of her education, including her doctorate, in the Houston area.

"When I was teaching first grade, I had a little boy in my classroom; his name was Irvin. I knew when Irvin left on Friday he would not eat again until he came back to school Monday morning for breakfast,” Johnson said. "The teachers would try and send home peanut butter and crackers and things like that for him over the weekend. Over Thanksgiving or Christmas, spring break or summer, it broke your heart because you knew no matter how much you gave it wouldn't last until school was back in."

"So when I heard about Backpack Buddy, it really touched my heart,” she said. “I spoke to my faculty, and it touched their heart. We just all jumped in and started doing this."

Johnson will do it again next year, with a new theme yet to be determined.

"If we could get enough money to send 300 backpacks, so those kids don't have to have a raffle every week," Johnson said, "that would be incredible."

For more information, contact the curriculum and instruction department at 936.294.1146.



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