The Hunger Busters

By Bob McCullough

Kathy Bandujo, Karen Shouse and their fellow hunger busters have a strong appetite for community service that won’t be satiated until they know no child in the Boerne area in without enough to eat.

Kathy Bandujo of Fair Oaks Ranch hungers to help others whose stomachs are empty, especially kids in the Boerne area who need food to do well in school.

“Many people are just unaware how many children live in poverty in our area,” says Bandujo, who first learned of widespread hunger as a volunteer at Hill Country Daily Bread. That stark reality contrasts with the many upscale neighborhoods in and around Boerne. But the fact is one in five Boerne Independent School District (BISD) students qualifies for the federal National School Lunch Program.

Bandujo happened to be in her dentist’s office when she read a magazine article about a national movement called Blessings in a Backpack (BIB). She learned BIB started in Louisville, Ky., 10 years ago and now operates in 44 states; she on the spot decided that Boerne needed its own BIB chapter to fight hunger among school children, and she immediately enlisted the help of neighbors Cindy Offutt and Karon Shouse. The trio approached BISD Superintendent David Stelmazewski, who endorsed their efforts and helped them launch a BIB pilot program at Cibolo Creek Elementary at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Students in need receive their breakfast and lunch during the week at school, so BIB concentrates on providing take-home food items every Friday during the school year so the youngsters can make it through the weekend. In addition to Cibolo Creek, BIB assists Currington, Fair Oaks Ranch, Fabra and Kendall elementary schools.

“Last year, we served approximately 230 students a week,” Bandujo says. “This year, we’d like to help at least 300 and up to 350, if possible. We’d love to eventually add the middle and high schools, but that’s way down the road because we still aren’t serving all the elementary school kids yet.”

She notes that each BIB chapter operates independently and must raise all the funds it needs  –  $125 per child for the entire school year  –  to purchase food, recruit volunteers and set up its distribution system. BIB solicits funds from generous civic clubs like Rotary, churches, social groups, foundations, companies and individuals.

“I think it’s important people know that our local BIB chapter is all-volunteer,” Shouse says. “There is no paid staff or offices. Every dime we raise is used solely to purchase food for the kids. We’ve also received a few grants, but we really need to expand that avenue for funding in order to grow. In fact, one of the things we really need is a volunteer willing to be our grant writer.”

Bandujo maintains that BIB’s effectiveness relies on both monetary support and dedicated volunteers.

“On any given packing day, we’ll have between 10 and 25 volunteers,” she says.  “PTO volunteers from each of the five elementary schools always help out, plus we have faithful volunteers from Our Savior Lutheran Church and the Kendall County Area Democratic Women’s Club. And, of course, we have individuals who’ve heard about BIB and who want to help. We pack the bags during the school year from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Thursdays at the Rainbow Senior Center at Kronkosky Place at 17 Old San Antonio Road in Boerne.”

Prospective volunteers can learn more from Bandujo at 210.862.8484 or Shouse at 830.446.1618. Additional information about BIB is available at www.blessingsinabackpack.org, and online monetary donations can be made by designating the Boerne chapter.

Other donations such as peanut butter and canned chicken are also welcome “because they’re two of the more costly items we use,” Bandujo says. “If we can get them donated, it stretches our budget to buy more food and serve more kids.”

BIB operates mainly during the school year because food is distributed through the elementary school classrooms, however hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation. To tackle this challenge, BIB has joined other organizations in launching the Boerne Community Coalition (BCC), which involves local government, businesses, churches, civic groups, non-profits and individuals in feeding children during the summer months. This first summer of BCC collaboration “has made a dent in the need, but it’s going to take several years to fully meet our goal,” Bandujo reports.

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