Network of helpers feeding Pearl Watson’s children in need

Phillips 66 and Second Harvest Food Bank have partnered to support Pearl Watson Elementary’s Weekend Backpack Food Program.

On Wednesday, Phillips 66 presented Second Harvest with a $20,000 grant that will provide funding for the backpack program, which provides over 17,000 meals — 20,000 pounds of nutrient-rich food — to 325 students every Friday over a school year.

In Calcasieu Parish, 17 percent of children experience food insecurity. The issue is more potent at Pearl Watson, with 97 percent of the student body being classified as economically disadvantaged by the state.

Pearl Watson Principal Shaunte Guilory confirmed the severity of the food insecurity.

“There is a food shortage, food deficit, and many of our babies are hungry. The truth of the matter is, before we can get to the point of educating them, we have to take care of so many other things first, and feeding them is one of the things.”

Phillips 66 Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex General Manager Scot Tyler called food insecurity a “plight” that negatively affects kids’ ability to learn. Providing meals for them ensures Calcasieu students get the best education possible.

“When you think about what happens here, it’s not just providing a meal. This lowers absenteeism, this lowers trips to the school nurse. This increases the opportunity for the kids to engage in the academics that is the primary function of the school.”

The Backpack Program treats each child with dignity and respect, said Sara Jean Gilles, children’s and seniors’ programs coordinator for Acadiana and SWLA, Second Harvest. Each Friday, students are given a bag with five pounds of kid-friendly food, like apple sauce, raisins, juice and cereal. The packaging is easy to open so that it is accessible to kids.

The program intends to ensure students have secure meals over the weekend.

“A lot of our families and our kids are relying on those meals that are being provided Monday through Friday by our schools,” she explained. “This is put in their backpacks so that they’re able to independently, a 5-year-old, and 8-year-old, can have access to this food even if a caregiver is not around.”

Phillips 66 is Pearl Watson’s Partner in Education. Tyler said in a release that is motivated to do its part to provide resources for physical development, mental health and academic success.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Second Harvest and know they can help fill the gaps and serve the children’s well-being.”

Citizens can help fight food insecurity by sharing the mission of Second Harvest, volunteering, donating resources and supporting the organization financially. For more information and ways to help, visit www.no-hunger.org.

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