Back when Mindy McClanahan was pastor at First United Methodist Church and leading a discipleship study, she challenged the participants to put the discipleship they had been talking about into action. Terry Marricle was a member of that study.
As Terry considered her options, she happened to hear about Dyron Howell, a pharmacist in Amarillo, who had wondered what students who received reduced lunches at school during the week did for food over the weekends. He decided to help some kids he had noticed at various times that might need a little extra help. Working out of his garage in 2010, he came up with a way to provide weekend food for ten of those children, and Snack Pak 4 Kids was born.
So Terry decided she would like to help students with similar needs in Muleshoe schools as one way to put her discipleship into action. With the help of individuals in the Methodist Church, she began the Backpack Ministry in 2014. Donations were made at the church, but Terry also asked for donations from local businesses. Other Muleshoe churches made donations, too. Church and community volunteers sacked up nonperishable food items for kids referred by teachers, and bags were picked up at the Methodist Church weekly on Saturdays.
Time passed, the number of kids served grew, and Terry merged her Backpack Ministry with SP4K in 2017. SP4K had grown and was able to get food at better prices, special sizes of products, free shipping, and rebates on meat sticks and milk. Since the program is funded by donations, it’s important to make the most of that money, and joining the larger program was very helpful. All monies donated go to buying food, not administrative costs. Administrative duties are now taken care of by a Baptist organization in Amarillo.
Providing food for the weekend is not a food program like reduced lunch, but rather an educational barrier removal. Reduced lunch helps kids learn, too, but it is a government program based on income level. Sometimes families go through unexpected rough times and just need a little temporary help with food. Kids can’t learn on an empty stomach, so MISD was willing to get involved. Kids who come to school without hunger learn better, miss school less, stay healthier, and aren’t as prone to repeating a grade. So Superintendent Richards agreed to making a classroom available to store the food and prepared bags and to fill the bags. Then every Friday the school staff put full bags in students’ lockers when the kids are out for recess, saving the recipients any embarrassment and preserving their dignity.
The bags that are donated by United Supermarket are filled once a month, usually the first Wednesday of the month, by volunteers. Chuck Smith meets the delivery truck with Bailey County Electric staff to unload cases of food into the bins in the workroom at room at Dillman Elementary so the food is ready to be put in the bags. Chuck also takes filled bags from Dillman to DeShazo Elementary to be distributed to the children there as well.
Various classes from the high school have helped, like Val McCamish’s classes, boys’ and girls’ athletic groups, the junior high student council, to name just a few. Bailey County Electric has been represented, as well as Happy State Bank employees, Cowboy Church and Trinity Church members. Members from the Methodist Church, who were there at the beginning, still come to help.
I have helped fill the bags before, but it was time I did it again. I went April 5 and helped about thirteen other volunteers form an assembly line to put items in each bag. I didn’t get a picture of our assembly line since I was in it, but here’s the assembly line the junior high student council manned earlier this year.
Each month items sometimes change, depending on availability, but each bag always has at least two cereals with reduced or low sugar, two or more proteins, one fruit, and one drink. We bagged Gatorade, Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs, applesauce, peanut butter crackers, sunflower kernels, cheese crackers, beef jerky, barbecue chicken bits, and cinnamon crackers. All food is fresh, brand new, and brand name.
By 2022 SP4K had grown from serving ten kids to over ten thousand in the Texas Panhandle. In the beginning, Muleshoe served seventy-two students; now it serves 158 children. If you would like to help, go to the southwest corner, the pre-K door of Dillman Elementary School on the first Wednesday (usually) of the month at 5:30 pm and enjoy an easy thirty to sixty minutes of visiting and filling bags.
If you would like to donate to the cause, a check can be sent to SP4K, 701 Park Place Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, 79101. Be sure to designate Muleshoe in the memo line for Muleshoe to receive the donation. Or if it would be easier, just get that check to Terry.
I will leave you with this testimony as to the good the program does. Optometrist Shauna Thornhill in Amarillo shared her story about SP4K. During her childhood her family hit a rough spot, and there were times she went to school hungry. She started receiving the bags in Amarillo, and it made all the difference in her world because she said the full tummy and the fact that people were concerned enough to make it happen gave her hope.
Sounds like something worth our time and money.
Thanks to Terry Marricle for her help with this story.