Locals in Pierce County aren’t lacking in team spirit. They show up at ball games, pep rallies and parades to support the Bears, and Bear fans are loyal, investing time, money and other resources in the success of Pierce County’s students and athletes. Now, a growing number of community volunteers are stepping up to help the Bears out in another way — by feeding the ones who often go hungry.
One in six children in the U.S. face hunger daily. The cupboards are bare in their home and their parents often have to choose between keeping a roof over the family’s heads or buying groceries.
Feed Our Bears, a community effort to provide food to students for the weekend, is fighting that problem one sack lunch at a time.
Feed Our Bears is the brainchild of Rosalind Tyrone. It launched a year ago at Patterson Elementary School, but now children at all three Pierce County elementary schools are being served by the volunteer-based program with Midway Elementary School opening their doors most recently in January. BES started receiving and distributing the donated food last Fall.
Offerman Baptist was the first church to invest in Feed Our Bears, supported mainly by local churches and a few business sponsors. Tyrone approached Pastor James Lightsey and church members with the idea. She volunteered previously with a similar program in Texas.
With Tyrone leading the charge, members at Offerman Baptist began packing 60-70 bags a week last January for PES with food items children can easily fix for themselves even if an adult isn’t around. Fruit cups, oatmeal, mac-n-cheese, crackers and granola bars are staples.
These days, locals meet weekly at two other churches to pack bags for Feed Our Bears as the program continues to grow. More than 200 children are now being served across the three elementary schools.
The food is delivered by those volunteers to each elementary school where a school counselor hands them out to the kids, previously selected for the program, on Friday afternoons as they head home for the weekend.
Some of the children who receive a Feed Our Bears food bag have a severe need for extra food — they might otherwise have to skip a meal — while others just need a little extra help, a snack perhaps. Regardless, each child takes home a bag with a half dozen non-perishable items. Some children are given additional bags for older siblings too.
PES Principal Theresa Dixon was quick to say yes to implementing Feed Our Bears last year. The program helps accomplish PES’ goal of serving every student need, she says.
“We can get caught up in the academic part of it, making sure the kids pass the tests, but we really try our hardest to take care of the whole child,” Dixon says.
When school is out for long breaks and during summer months, some children who typically eat breakfast and lunch at school are left wondering what they’ll eat until the next time the lunchroom bell rings. Summer feeding programs reduce that risk during the longest break from classes, but Feed Our Bears is also working to eliminate that fear.
Last year Tyrone reached out for more community help to send students home with a larger Feed Our Bears bag before Spring Break and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from other churches and local businesses.
“The community really responded to that and we had tons of food,” Tyrone says.
The need won’t go away and the program is too easy not to keep it up.
Feed Our Bears is here to stay.
“It’s too effortless,” says Ashlee Todd, PES school counselor. “It doesn’t take five minutes to distribute.”
“We didn’t want this to be a burdensome process,” Tyrone says.
Food support programs don’t always work out well. Even previous attempts in Pierce County Schools haven’t been successful. This program is growing, however, as volunteers, and school administrators, see how effectively it works, and what little effort distributing the food takes.
The constant collaboration between churches, volunteers and the schools are what will make the program a continued success, Dixon adds.
Feed Our Bears may help fill little bellies and send children to bed at night without hunger pangs, but it also eliminates distractions and strengthens their ability to learn at school, further accomplishing school administrators’ efforts to serve the whole child.
“Kids can’t choose their environment,” Tyrone says. “The only way you’re going to help that child get out of poverty is to educate them and the only way to educate them properly is if they’re paying attention.”
Feed Our Bears voluntneers would like to see the program grow so they can serve children at the middle and high schools too. That effort, however, will take more locals stepping up to help.
Perhaps many who are quick to cheer our Bears on for a touchdown or win on the court will also be willing to feed them when they’re hungry.
Feeding our Bears, afterall, is one way to ensure they continue to succeed athletically and academically.