Shaunelis Sterns has been dismayed by how fast her children are growing.
“There have been times that we've had to make those choices,” she said. “But the Lord has always provided.”
She considers one of His provisions the BackPack Program sponsored by the East Texas Food Bank.
“When I was going to school, we didn't have things like that,” Mrs. Sterns said.
Administrators, nurses and teachers are trained to identify children who might not have enough to eat at home and come to school hungry. The program is partnered with schools in 17 East Texas counties.
Children who participate are given a backpack full of easy-to-prepare food at the end of the day on Friday and before long holiday vacations.
Often, if a child is hungry, it affects performance in class, Dennis Cullinane, executive director of the East Texas Food Bank, said.
Mrs. Sterns often uses the canned food to add to family meals and lets the children have the snacks while they play.
“My husband can really make food stretch,” Mrs. Sterns said.
Health problems also have added to the family's ability to make ends meet. Mrs. Sterns had a dangerous cyst removed from her brain in 2009, and her husband is on disability since he was injured in a car accident.
Mrs. Sterns has a seasonal position at a retail chain and hopes it will transition to full-time work after the holidays.
The program provides food for nearly 5,000 children in the service area. In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 130,000 backpacks were distributed through schools, churches, and after-school programs.
“Children and seniors are our most at-risk population,” he said. “We have an opportunity to directly address that with programs like this.”
“I wanna be a volunteer,” Yasmine Sterns said. “I like the food bank. It means a lot because some kids around the world don't have food.”
The Sterns children both love the fiber bars. Yasmine likes the tuna fish only sometimes, but her mom makes her eat it because it's good for her, she said with a shy smile.
A group of fifth-graders who pack the backpacks are part of a student leadership program. Yasmine hopes to interview for a position next year.
“It's a help; it's helped me and my family. It helps the whole community,” Mrs. Sterns said. “I hope in the near future that the program will be in all 50 states. Many families don't know where they're going to get their next meal. I hope people see this and say, 'They gave back to their community; we need to do the same.'”