For any member who has joined The Junior League of Austin (JLA) in the past 10 years, you likely know the program Food in Tummies (FIT) very well. It has been the Provisional Community Placement since its inception. For those new to JLA, FIT is one of our most innovative and important programs. In collaboration with Del Valle Independent School District, JLA volunteers provide weekend food to children grades K through five within two elementary school campuses: Baty Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary. As we celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary, we’re looking back at how FIT started and the impact it’s making on the children of Central Texas.
According to the Central Texas Food Bank of Texas, one in every five children in Central Texas experiences food insecurity. Multiple studies and extensive research show that children who are hungry do not excel in school. The National School Lunch Program addresses the issue of hunger during the school week, but not on the weekend. In most cases, it takes a child who has gone without proper nourishment through the weekend until Wednesday to recover, only to start the cycle again each Friday. And children without access to adequate amounts of food over the weekend have higher rates of absenteeism, difficulty with concentration, and classroom behavior. This data was the inspiration that lead FIT to be created: a program that could bridge the gap between Friday – Monday for children experiencing food insecurity.
For FIT, the proof is in the numbers. JLA initially started at just one elementary school and over the past 10 years has been able to expand to a second. Over the course of those 10 years and two elementary schools, approximately 400,000 bags have been distributed. FIT has even added auxiliary programs like fitness classes, cooking classes, and FIT Fun Fest. JLA also makes a point to participate in back to school activities in order to encourage the entire community to get involved. This program is no longer a small operation, but rather a well oiled machine that has become one of our most successful endeavours.
As a League member who worked on FIT during my Provisional year, I was constantly amazed by how each individual volunteer hour added up to having such a huge impact on the students of Baty and Hillcrest Elementary. Each step of the process – from ordering and packing food and cleaning bags, to delivering bags and making flyers – alone may seem minuet, but as a whole is a beautifully seamless masterpiece. In our 2018-2019 year alone, JLA had 6,824 volunteer hours volunteered towards FIT, including distributing bags and auxiliary programs.
So with the 10 year anniversary upon us, where do we go from here? Do we expand to more schools? Do we add more programs? These are the questions we’ll continue to ask as the program moves along year after year. Apart from a 10 year celebration which will happen later this year in conjunction with our partners at Del Valle, there are always ways you as an individual can help to keep the program running smoothly. Whether it’s a monetary donation (the cost of one backpack is $4.75–recently reduced from $5.75 due to a new partnership), or simply spreading the word within the community to help bring more of community partners to the forefront, you have the power to help shape the future of FIT.
About the writer: Jessica Pino has been a member for the Junior League of Austin for 3 years and has spent several years blogging before joining LeagueLines 2019-2020 as a writer. She is a local Realtor and loves exploring the city.