Karen Faulkner has been working as a registrar for Leander ISD for more than 20 years. After noticing that students were often hungry in the classroom, she decided to do something about it.
She started the backpack program, which provides students in need with backpacks full of food to ensure they don’t go hungry over the weekend.
The backpack program has since evolved into the 501c(3) non-profit, Student Charities, and now includes a winter food box program with enough food for the students and their families for the two-week holiday. This year, Student Charities sent more than 200 boxes home with students so families won't have to decide between buying food or buying Christmas presents.
Hill Country News sat down with Faulkner to talk about her extraordinary efforts and the motivation behind it:
HCN: How did you start Student Charities?
FAULKNER: Since I have been working here in the school district there has always been children in the classroom who are hungry. So, I thought why don’t we send a backpack of food home with the students for the weekend. I did some research and found that there backpack programs in several other states. I took the idea to the district personnel and talked with them about starting a backpack program in our district. We started at Mason Elementary with 20 backpacks a week and since then we have added more schools and more schools every year. Currently, we do around 250 food bags a week.
HCN: What motivated you to take action for the students?
FAULKNER: There’s so many reasons. You know, when you see kids are hungry, they aren’t going to learn as well when they’re hungry. When kids are cared for and loved, and not hungry, they can learn. What is so nice about the backpack program is that we are consistent. Every Friday, they get that backpack, they can count on us, and that’s huge for a lot of kids. It also makes the kids feel good about themselves because they feel like they are helping their families by bringing the bags home and sharing it with their families.
HCN: What impact do you think Student Charities has had on the community?
FAULKNER: Well, in several ways, a lot of people are glad to see that we’re giving back to our own students in our own community. We get a lot of support from the community. I can’t even list all of the churches and groups that help us. They’ll commit for a month, a year, and we can always go to them whenever we need something. The other thing that I really like about the program is that students who volunteer to help in the program are helping other students in need. I have a number of high school classes and groups of older students who pack, sort, stack the shelves and deliver the food for me. It’s a win-win situation because they’re getting life skills, job skills, communication skills and life skills by interacting with people and schools. It’s a very simple program, but we just want to give hope and let those people in the community know that they’re cared for.
HCN: How has starting Student Charities impacted you?
FAULKNER: It’s made me more of a leader. I’m no longer afraid to pick up a microphone and talk anymore. It has helped me to be more clear when I’m speaking with people so that they understand what tasks I need completed in order to keep the program running smoothly.
HCN: What advice would you have for someone who wants to get involved in their community and tackle its issues?
FAULKNER: There are so many local places that can use help for volunteers. There are ways you can get out and help, with clothing, with food. You could read to students. There are just so many opportunities in the community to help and make things better.
For more information or donations, visit http://studentcharities.my-pta.org or the Student Charities’ Facebook page.