Okay, I admit it. I am addicted to volunteering for Snack Pak 4 Kids.
Why, you ask? Our journey to becoming involved with Snack Pak started in September of 2011, when a friend of mine who was a second-grade teacher at Margaret Wills Elementary School asked me if my husband and I would like to be mentors to her class that year.
Homer and I have always loved kids, so it was a no-brainer for us to jump on board. We went to school and read to the kids. Yes, we even let her put us in the Cat in the Hat attire. We went to their class parties.
We took them bags of Christmas goodies, including food and staples we “thought” might help. We had no idea at that time about Snack Pak 4 Kids – just knew some of those children looked like they might need some help over the holidays.
There was one tiny little boy in the class that had won our hearts from the beginning. His name was Pho.
We ended up being mentors in the America’s Promise program at Margaret Wills as well, and we spent the lunch hour every Tuesday with children who needed a little extra help with reading, homework or whatever their teachers thought necessary.
Pho was one of the children we had the honor of spending time with every Tuesday. Pho was a tiny child but always had the biggest smile and best attitude, regardless of what might have been going on at home or school. To say the least, our fondness of Pho grew through this weekly contact.
His teacher told me that the SP4K bags had been late in getting placed into the kids’ lockers one day, and that Pho was absolutely in a panic – worried about not having food for the weekend. That really opened our eyes.
We had heard about SP4K in passing but had never really delved into finding out what it was all about. I visited the SP4K website and learned as much as I could – and loved what I saw.
I went to the next scheduled packing session in an old, HOT warehouse across the street from the Civic Center. Went alone, didn’t know a soul, but I came away with a heart full of pride and love for the program and the community of Amarillo – all because of the love and excitement I felt in that warehouse.
After listening to Dyron Howell speak at the end of the session, I was so impressed with his philosophy and history of how SP4K got started. I handed him a check on my way out the door. Thus, began my journey and addiction to volunteering for and supporting SP4K.
I signed up online for every packing session after that. Told my husband how impressed I was with the program, and, being the kind, caring man he was (and knowing how important SP4K was to Pho), he signed up as well. There were many nights he was working and couldn’t attend, but I wasn’t going to miss unless we were out of town.
When he was able to attend, he loved it as much as I did and had planned to sign up to help deliver totes after retirement. Unfortunately, he became very ill in 2016, and we were not able to attend the packing sessions during his illness. He fought a good fight but passed away in July 2016.
To honor what he had wanted to do after retirement, I signed up to deliver totes for the 2016-2017 school year and absolutely love it. This year I am delivering to Sanborn Elementary School – Homer’s grade school in the late 1940s! I know he would have loved it, too.
One of the most impressive aspects of SP4K is the way the organization operates. One hundred percent of the money donated to the program goes to buy food for the kids. And not just any food: always high quality, brand name (no salvage stuff for our kids), nutritious selections.
Baptist Community Services pays the salary for the two paid employees, as well as covering operating expenses for the building – which was purchased through grants received and corporate and individual donations during the capital campaign. Every other dollar collected not designated for the capital campaign went to buy food and continues to buy food now!
It’s still so very hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that an organization this big and having such an impact can be run by two paid employees and a wonderful bank of volunteers. Were it not for Dyron Howell, the founder (not an employee), and his vision for what SP4K could be, along with the support of those committed volunteers and staff, there would still be many children in the Panhandle area without food for the weekend.
After finding out how the program handles donations, this addicted volunteer decided to come up with some strange ways to raise funds and become an addicted donor as well.
My dog had a fundraiser on Facebook challenging other pets to get their “people” to donate so kids could have food for the weekend. I planted the seed for a Bushland High School senior to make her senior project be a fundraiser for SP4K. She raised over $1,000! I even gave my sister-in-law a manicure every week for years and told her I would only do it if she sent the money she wanted to pay me to SP4K instead.
Recently, I had a garage sale and did not put a price on a single item. Instead, I told people it was all going to SP4K and to set their own price. We ended up with a little over $2,000 for the cause. My friends all know that their Christmas gift from me will be a donation to SP4K in their honor, and they like knowing they are helping kids, too. Fundraising can be fun AND fruitful.
Giving is easy once you see the impact the program has on kids in the Texas Panhandle. Kids can’t learn if they are hungry. Kids can’t help it if there is not enough food in their home. There are many reasons why a household may be food insecure, and it isn’t our spot to know or understand why.
We need to be aware of the need, realize kids can’t earn their own living wage job to put food on the table and do our part to help end weekend hunger. It may have been six years or so since we started this journey, but I do this for Pho – and the thousands of other children just like him – who need a little help.
Snack Pak 4 Kids has had a huge impact on my life, and I will tell the SP4K story to anyone who will listen in hopes of planting the seeds for more SP4K addicts!
Through my years of being on different boards and committees, I’ve always heard that you need to look for the three Ws (work, wisdom or wealth) or the three Ts (time, talent or treasures) when looking for volunteers or board members. Surely everyone reading this blog has one or more of those traits that could be used to help our community be a better place.
Be it Snack Pak 4 Kids or another cause close to your hearts, find a place to volunteer and do your part!
Suzanne Brantley was in the legal field for 21 years, beginning at the Seventh Court of Appeals in 1983, and ended her career in the legal field after 14 years as a law firm Administrator. She spent 12 years at the Amarillo Area Foundation first as the Executive Assistant to the President/CEO and retired in June 2016 as the Administrative Services Manager.
Her "retirement" consists of working two days a week at the Amarillo Area Foundation; volunteering two afternoons a week at her church; and packing bags, picking up empty totes and delivering totes for Snack Pak 4 Kids. She also serves on the supervisory committee at the Amarillo Community Federal Credit Union.
Her late husband, Homer Brantley, retired in June 2016 after nearly 50 years of being a locomotive engineer for the BNSF Railroad (formerly Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe RR). They were both avid runners and ran in all 50 states, as well as 14 foreign countries before slowing down to walking or using elliptical trainers. Both were active in volunteering for church and various charities together, and Suzanne continues to be a "Snack Pak 4 Kids addict."
Become an SP4K addict like Suzanne.