Hope is a rare commodity when you’re not sure where your child’s next meal is coming from, when you have to choose between buying groceries for your family or buying gas so you can get to work.

But, Minnie’s Food Pantry deals in hope. And, for 853 families last month, the charity located on West Parker Road in Plano meant that their kids didn’t go to bed hungry.

In the midst of hard times, Minnie’s is a place filled with smiles and upbeat energy.

On Friday, Aug. 24, Minnie’s Food Pantry Director of Operations Erica Simon was a whirlwind of motion as she moved among the Walker Elementary School staff who had gathered to help out just a few days from the start of school.

While one group of Walker teachers sorted canned goods, another group unloaded a truck filled with boxes of food. Still more stocked pantry shelves. Music poured from overhead speakers as Simon seamlessly coordinated this flurry of activity, bouncing from one group to the next.

For the staff of Walker Elementary in the McKinney ISD, it was a different approach to team building, one suggested by fourth-grade teacher Michele Hearn who saw Minnie’s Food Pantry as an opportunity to serve -- for herself and her fellow teachers.

“We always do some sort of team builder [before the start of the school year],” Hearn said, “so I decided instead of spending money to do something like bowling or Whirly Ball or something like that, I said, ‘What’s a better idea than to give back to the community?’ I saw [Minnie’s Food Pantry] on a special on t.v., and I said, ‘Well this is right down the street from us. This is something that we can do to give back to the community.’”

Walker Elementary Principal Deborah Sanchez thought it was a great idea and a great way to model the compassion and service she and the rest of the Walker staff have been emphasizing with their students.

“Walker Elementary has been participating in the Rachel’s Challenge program. This is our third year, and it’s about promoting kindness and compassion,” said Sanchez.

“The last two years we’ve felt like we’ve done a really good job of implementing that at our school by honoring students with a chain for doing an act of kindness or compassion. We had over 8,000 acts of kindness at Walker this year. So, we decided to add community service -- to show kindness to our community,” she said.

“Today the entire Walker staff is here on a workday and we’re volunteering at Minnie’s Food Pantry and hope to be able to showcase that and show it to our students and model it to our students. Each of our grade levels this school year is going to do their own community service project. So, kindergarten all the way to 5th grade hopefully will have [a total of] 6 more community service type projects -- just to really expand that part of Rachel’s Challenge that is about giving back and promoting kindness and compassion towards others.”

Assistant Principal Amanda Hurlbut added, “Rachel’s Challenge has always been such a strong push with the students -- and yes it was led by the staff -- but we really felt like this was taking it to that next level.”

With activity swirling around her, Simon graciously paused in her work to talk about the importance of volunteers, pointing out that volunteers dedicated about $100,000 worth of manpower to Minnie’s Food Pantry last year.

“That’s how volunteers contributed to us,” she said. “They help us sort the food items, they help us with clients -- making sure that they are treated with the utmost respect. We love groups to come in and volunteer.”

“I always admonish every volunteer to come in and serve with joy, with happiness, to serve with joy like they were serving the one that they love the most. So we just make sure that that spirit, that joy is conveyed to our clients that walk through these doors because they’re already making that tough decision to come to a food pantry. So, we want to ease that decision for them,” said Simon.

And Simon had nothing but great things to say about the staff of Walker Elementary.

“This Walker Elementary group is a great group of people!” she said. “It’s a large group -- 50 people -- but we can accommodate that. As you can see we’re all having a good time and working and I love the spirit. I love this group. They are so flexible, moving from one task to the next. I tell them one thing to do, they know what to do. You can tell I’m working with teachers! I love it.”

For additional information on Minnie’s Food Pantry, please visit www.minniesfoodpantry.org.

For additional information on Rachel’s Challenge, please visit www.rachelschallenge.org.


About the author: Shane Mauldin is a MISD Communications Specialist.