For several weeks during September starting in 2016, the students of Creekside Forest Elementary School in The Woodlands have lugged backpacks full of peanut butter to school for a good cause. This year, the students at the Tomball Independent School District campus collected over 5,000 pounds of peanut butter that will be donated to local food banks for those in need.
September is Hunger Action Month which made it the perfect month for the students to learn about food insecurity, and take action to help those experiencing food insecurity right in their neighborhoods.
At the Sept. 30 Call To Greatness morning gathering at the school, the students got to see just how much they had collected when the jars and jars they had collected were revealed on the school stage. The 5,800 pounds of peanut butter were put together in a fun display that reflected the school’s theme for this year: Ride the wave to greatness.
Monday’s reveal showed the jars had been arranged to look like peanuts having a beach party. Each peanut was modeled after the staff and teachers of the school who made a significant impact on the peanut butter collection.
The peanut butter drive at the school started in 2016 when PTO member Alex Leslie wanted to do something nice for the teachers, and learned how she could do something nice for both the teachers and the community.
“Creekside Elementary School really tries to go out of its way to make sure that their students participate in things outside of the school and give back to the community,” Leslie said. “We thought the peanut butter drive would be a good way to do that because it’s something that the students can relate to and something they can understand.”
The first peanut butter drive at the elementary school was put on in 2016. That year, Leslie was doing hospitality for the PTO and wanted to put on a luncheon for the teachers. She reached out to The Cheesecake Factory for help, but the restaurant wanted something in return. Peanut Butter.
The Cheesecake Factory holds an annual peanut butter drive and fundraiser for Feeding America, a nation-wide organization with the stated goal of addressing food insecurity at the local level. During September, workers at The Cheesecake Factory locations all across the country collect peanut butter and funds, which will then be distributed to local food banks.
Last year, Creekside Forest Elementary collected around 4,000 pounds of peanut butter. This year the students went above and beyond that number, collecting nearly 6,000 pounds. Now, it will be picked up by The Cheesecake Factory and distributed through the Montgomery County Food Bank.
“Our families here are very fortunate and very blessed,” said Cindy Killam, assistant principal at Creekside Forest. “One of the things that we’re trying to instill in our students is just being grateful and giving back to the community.”
A new program at the school, Great Expectations, encourages students to give back to the community, and the peanut butter drive was a natural fit as an aspect of the program. Within the school community, Killam said there was a “very limited number” of students who experience food insecurity.
“They do tend to give back because they are so blessed,” she said of the families in the school. “That’s a quality that they want to instill in their children, the importance of giving back to others.”
While student’s are collecting the peanut butter, they are also learning about food insecurity and what that means in their own community. The lessons of the peanut butter drive make their way into numerous classes, including math. The students learn how many people a jar of peanut butter can feed, and calculate about how many people they can help with all of the jars they collect.
At the Monday morning reveal, different grades were asked different questions, like what percentage of people in the area are food insecure? The answer: Around 16 percent. According to data from Feeding America released in 2017, Montgomery County has a 13.8 percent overall food insecurity rate, and 20.7 percent food insecurity rate for children which comes out to around 29,530 children.
“Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods,” According to FeedingAmerica.org. “Food insecure children are those children living in households experiencing food insecurity.”
Only about half of the children experiencing food insecurity in Montgomery County are eligible for federal nutrition programs, according to the same Feeding America data.
“We do explain to them how fortunate we are to know that we’re going to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday,” Leslie said. “Maybe we don’t see it, but there are people in our own area who are not as fortunate and do have to questions when they will have their next meal.”
It’s a lesson that she said resonates with the students and makes them feel like they can make a difference here at home with the peanut butter drive.