HISD taps community program to feed Houstonians in need

HISD’s Student Assistance Department knows that students can’t learn on an empty stomach. While Nutrition Services provides students with three nutritious meals a day, Student Assistance strives to provide support for the whole student, and sometimes, that means also supporting their families and communities.

Student Assistance partnered with Second Servings, a local nonprofit that specializes in “food rescue,” the practice of recovering and redirecting edible food from grocery stores and other food retailers that would otherwise go to waste. Second Servings works with these retailers to collect short-dated or unsold food items and redistribute them to people in need.

“We do a weekly distribution with the Houston Food Bank,” said Carl Green, Manager of Community Partnerships. “But when those families come, sometimes all they’re able to get are canned goods or non-perishables, and even though they’re leaving here with something, they’re not able to get the meats, fruits, and produce that they need.”

Student Assistance wanted to simulate the grocery shopping experience inside the HISD Re-Engagement Center. They set up long tables spanning the length of the central hallway, organized recovered food items into a makeshift grocery store, and invited community members to “shop” for what they needed – free of charge.

“This event is exciting to us because [families in need] get to shop the way that everybody else shops: with dignity,” said Green. “They get to pick what they like and try new foods.”

Through community partnerships like this, Student Assistance can tackle the widespread problem of food insecurity at its source. The Re-Engagement Center is designed to be a one-stop shop for community members who need support in other ways, too.

On Friday, July 14, as dedicated Student Assistance employees unloaded an entire refrigerated transit van full of groceries into the Re-Engagement Center, families who came to take advantage of Second Servings’ donations spoke with HISD’s social workers and other staff who provided information on the services available through Student Assistance as well as assessed needs and acted as a listening ear for community members who might otherwise go unheard.

“It brings the community closer together and lets underserved students know that we’re here for them,” said one Community Outreach staff member. “A lot of our families were very affected after COVID and have not recovered. It’s important to have a relationship with the community so these people who are already struggling don’t have to worry about not having food or supplies, especially our homeless population.”

To learn more about Second Servings and their battle against food insecurity in Houston, click here.