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New program at Longview middle school helps students in need

Judson STEAM Academy is enlisting the help of community organizations to donate to its backpack program.

LONGVIEW, Texas — The goal of the backpack program at Longview ISD is to provide food and essential items for all of its students.

"The backpack program is a weekly program we send home with kids," Leah Shea, community and site coordinator at Judson STEAM Academy, said. "We’re up to 202 [students] this year."

The program provides food that students are sent home with on the weekend. 

"It’s food from the district [and] child nutrition services," Shea said. "They have cheese, sandwiches, Go-Gurt. If it’s from the churches it's chips, granolas bars, pasta and then we also have the food bank which has a lot of other things like chili ... it’s a large bag of food."

Shea works with parent volunteers to fill and distribute the bags of food every Thursday. 

"We fill them up with all the food we have and on Fridays we go through different classrooms," Shea said. "I have all the kids' names and where they're at so we have a process as possible with 200 kids."

Shea says the program evolved with 35 students and is now assisting more than 200. 

"It's been able for us to catch some of the kids who would've been apprehensive because they're seeing more of their friends being like 'I'm ok with receiving this' and 'I'm excited to,'" Shea said. 

According to the head of the school, Melanie Pondant, more than 600 students attend Judson with approximately 72% being low socio-economically status or economically disadvantaged. 

Through the backpack program, the school has partnered with outside community organizations to collect donations such as shoes, clothes, body wash, toothpaste and school supplies. 

"Things that kids love like gummies, chocolate bars, things they can eat at home, things they can heat up, macaroni and cheese," Chester Anderson, a teacher at Judson and member of New Beginnings Baptist Church, said. "It's something they enjoy and it's something we like to put a smile on their face for sure."

Sometimes, leaders of faith are brought in for mentorship. 

"It really takes a village to raise young people today, and as many as people we can get from the community to come to the school to set positive examples to set good role models, we need as much as that as we can," Eric Love, senior pastor of Church on Purpose, said. 

Shea says the students may ask anytime they may need a new pair of shoes, piece of clothing or food. 

"The kids need to know there are people around them that support them in whatever way that means," Shea said. "If food is what they need to be successful then that's what we can give them, if they need a backpack we can help them."

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