It started seven years ago. A teacher noticed some students in her school were struggling. On Friday, students were hiding food taken from the school cafeteria because they knew it was the start of the weekend, and the next meal might not come until Monday when they returned to school at breakfast time.
This teacher, along with a few others, went on to create Rockwood's Got Your Backpack program to serve students who were struggling with food shortage.
"We have students today who are literally homeless," says Fairway teacher and Got Your Backpack founder Maureen Smith. "Some families live in their cars. Some live in homeless shelters. They all live with uncertainty."
Rockwood Executive Director Student Services Dr. Terry Harris said the district currently has 128 students who are considered homeless. Seventy of those students are county residents, and 58 live in the city of St. Louis and participate in the voluntary transfer program.
"As a school district we are committed to taking good care of all our students," said Harris. "All 21,000 Rockwood students are members of our family."
Smith described how the program works.
"Counselors or social workers contact families in need to let them know about the program. The kids bring their own backpacks to the staff member who is distributing, and they place the grocery bag full of donated items into the student's backpack."
Smith said it's done that way to be discreet.
Where does the donated food come from? "It's all donated," said Smith. Volunteers pack the bags every week.
Now, the program is growing into something even better.
Rockwood Gives Back is extending a hand to all students in need. About 14 percent of Rockwood students qualify for the national free-and-reduced meal program.
While Rockwood ensures students have healthy meals during the school day and a backpack of food for the weekend, even more help is needed.
Some students may have difficulty paying for things most take for granted. A prep test for the ACT. Tickets for homecoming. Funds to participate in afterschool activities. An online class to support their learning.
Loralee Mondl and Jaime Bayes serve as volunteers for Rockwood Gives Back.
"We believe we are stronger when we work together," shares Mondl. "Our vision is to generate multiple levels of support for our Rockwood students who desperately need it."Bayes extends an invitation for all members of the Rockwood school community to join in. "It's heart work," she says. "We are all volunteers just doing our best for our kids."