In my 39 years I’ve known hardship, lived it. Not talking about the inconsequential sort that is more aptly categorized as an inconvenience of privilege, but the dark and frightening kind that heightens your senses and provokes the most basic of survival instincts.

The kind that teaches a little girl to use all the words at her disposal to tell the story because that’s how the light gets in: name the darkness, point it out to anyone who will listen, ask them for help bringing the light. Repeat, repeat.

Many of you know what I mean. You’ve lived hardship, too. You’ve fought through to the other side, and pray God you’re better for the scars of battle that prove you a survivor.

In this community, we move fluidly from one cause to the next, easing hardships best we can, with boundless compassion. We don’t light our lamp and put it under a bowl; in this city on a hill, we put that lamp on a stand, that it might illuminate every dusty corner, every pocket of despair and need.

Upon hearing the call, seeing the need, we move to it. That’s who we are, here.

And neighbors, there’s a hardship right here under our noses that needs our lamplight.

See the Need

By conservative estimation, there are at least 270 Erath County school children who are at risk of weekend hunger—small, comparatively voiceless citizens who face a very long weekend from the time they finish their cafeteria lunch on Friday until they receive their cafeteria breakfast on Monday morning.

Shine a light

My third grader shares the playground of Hook Elementary with peers who depend on the school for their primary nutrition. My eight-year-old peruses library books next to another eight-year-old who does not know whether he will have dinner on Tuesday, or anything at all to eat on Saturday and Sunday.

I first became aware of the prevalence of childhood hunger in our community when our Leadership Stephenville class heard a presentation from Backpack Buddies of Erath County. Sena Leese—a retired teacher with the quintessential Stephenville characteristic of gentle indomitability—is the director of Backpack Buddies.

Sena told us that day of the mission of Backpack Buddies to partner with schools to identify needs and provide weekend food for hungry students. She explained how the mission has grown in the last five years to encompass every public ISD in Erath County. She later invited us to witness its operation. Sena is a lamplighter.

Each week, the Tarrant County Food Bank delivers bags of non-perishable, child-friendly food to Stephenville, where volunteers stack the large boxes neatly in a church closet.

On Friday, volunteers divide the packages based on the quantity of needs submitted by each campus, and then deliver the non-descript bags of food to school counselors. From there, the counselors and teachers distribute the bags as discreetly as possible.

This February Backpack Buddies provided weekend food for 270 students, including

• Stephenville ISD (107 students)

• Dublin ISD (50)

• Three Way ISD (51)

• Lingleville ISD (29)

• Huckabay (12)

• Bluff Dale (11)

• Morgan Mill (10)

The cost to feed a child for one weekend is $5. Backpack Buddies has no overhead, no paid employees, taking every possible measure to ensure the donations received go straight to purchasing food.

The program is funded entirely through the generosity of local churches, charitable organizations, and individual donors.

Meet the Need

As a mother, as an involved school parent, as a believer pledged in faith to the needs of the ‘least of these,’ the fundamental mission of Backpack Buddies stops me in my hustlin’-bustlin’ tracks.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

My classmates in Leadership Stephenville unanimously feel the same way. And so it is that our class has partnered with Backpack Buddies to shine the light and meet the need.

Want to help? Here’s how:

• Burgers for Backpack Buddies, March 31st, from 11-2 at the City Park Pavilion

For $5, Leadership Stephenville will serve you a burger, chips, and a dessert. Your $5 will go directly to Backpack Buddies to provide weekend food for an Erath County child.

Tickets to this event are selling fast – to get yours, visit Texas Bank, Easter Air, Slawson Roofing, or just call me: (254) 965-6947.

#MyBackpackBuddy

Did you see the table at Chamber Banquet that Leadership Stephenville decorated for Backpack Buddies? 270 pegs dolls were dressed in ISD colors, staged in a stadium, and placed for ‘adoption’ by banquet-goers. By the end of the night *all* of those precious pegs were claimed and the stadium was empty!

For each peg doll returned to the Burgers event on 3/31, local partners have pledged a combined additional donation of $15/peg to Backpack Buddies. Be sure to bring your peg when you get your burger!

For more information about the pegs and to follow their appearances around Erath County, look for them on Facebook this month under #MyBackpackBuddy.

Sponsor a Child

The cost to sponsor a child in the program is $30 for a 6-weeks, $90 for a semester, and $180 for a school year. If you or your business are able to sponsor a child for any amount, contact Sena Leese or me.

We’ve known hardships, you and me. We’re varying degrees of removal from childhood, but we treasure its innocence and circle wagons around its vulnerability.

We light the lamps for our children.

It’s that simple. It’s that fundamental.

It’s #MyBackpackBuddy.

Shelby Slawson - attorney, mom, writer, and ever-aspiring trophy wife - is a member of the E-T’s community columnists. She can be reached at shelby@slawsonlawfirm.com.