Just twenty-eight miles north of Corpus Christi, Texas is a small town called Sinton.
Like many other small Texas towns, it’s a tight-knit community where folks know their neighbors, attend football games, and spend afternoons at the local Dairy Queen.
One place that ties the community together is the school district - Sinton ISD.
“The community is very supportive of Sinton ISD and Sinton ISD is supportive of the community,” said Silke West, Director of Food Services at Sinton ISD and hardworking champion for her students.
West has been keen on listening to the voices of families and learning from them.
During her first year at Sinton ISD, she noticed that there was only one summer meals site available for kids to pick up free meals and it wasn’t very well attended. After receiving feedback from families, the child nutrition team decided to open up a second site that was centrally located and the difference was immediate.
“I started to ask families what brought them to that location. It was because many of them only have one car in their household,” said Silke. “It helped me understand our community a little more.”
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, West and her child nutrition team learned even more about the community and how deeply the community appreciated school meals.
Like many rural communities, Sinton has very few grocery store options and, at the start of the pandemic, there was limited availability of many pantry staples and family favorite foods making it difficult for families to find what they need.
With only a half-a-day notice, West and her team set up curbside meal service to ensure that the families who rely on school meals still had access to them. Because West and her team were relying on inventory that they already had many of the most common items were not available and the community longed for familiar meals to support them during tough times.
“I thought that was an interesting realization and helped me understand that when we go through hiccups in food supply and become a food desert for a short amount of time,” West shared.
In the late fall of 2020, Sinton ISD was approached with the opportunity to participate in No Kid Hungry Texas’s first Rural School District Cohort which would provide the district with $30,000 in grant funding to support and expand their child nutrition program.
West and her team decided to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to middle schoolers, so older students would have access to the extra nutrition that their younger siblings are afforded through the USDA-sponsored program.
“As soon as the kids heard the cart coming down the hallway, you would see the classroom doors opening and a teacher would designate a student to meet us at the door to receive the bags. Then you would hear ‘what’s today?’ and ‘Oh I love that’ or ‘Oh I've never tried that!’ it was super exciting,” West said. Students are also given nutritional education in their bags so they can learn more about the foods they are trying.
Almost one year after the start of the pandemic, Winter Storm Uri blew through Texas and the majority of the state experienced extreme winter weather conditions with temperatures well below average. On top of that, many Texans were experiencing power outages, frozen pipes, and a lack of food supply as the roads were not safe to drive on.
When the district received a call from the San Patricio County Management Office asking if they would be willing to provide residents of the county access to food, West and her team sprang into action – they knew how to run a meal distribution site because they’ve been doing it since March 2020.
Two of Sinton ISD’s child nutrition staff members worked alongside community volunteers to prepare and provide over 1200 hot meals to the community. They supported vulnerable members of the community - including 60 seniors that were without heat, electricity or access to food in a senior center.
“That was one story that really impacted me because we know that our elders and our youngsters have the biggest need. To know that they were served was wonderful to hear.”
Silke and the Sinton ISD Food Services Department have received a lot of recognition from the community since the start of the pandemic.
"People know that we’re here for their kids. Prior to COVID, I can’t tell you that a lot of parents took interest in school meals but once COVID hit and the services were expanded many families realized how dependent they were upon them, they really started reaching out and participating and being very supportive, kind and generous about it.”
We at No Kid Hungry would like to extend our gratitude to Silke West and the entire food services staff at Sinton ISD for working so hard to feed and nourish the community.