Shoemaker High School Junior ROTC cadets gathered food to begin a drive to help Killeen ISD’s homeless student program. The district has identified 400 homeless students already this school year and is attempting to provide emergency food supplies to families in need.

When students at Shoemaker High School heard about a need for food, the Junior ROTC battalion took quick action.

In just two days, JROTC cadets gathered more than 100 non-perishable food items to benefit Killeen Independent School District’s Homeless Awareness Response Program.

Carlene Miles, intervention counselor at Shoemaker, told faculty in a meeting that the district’s homeless program was short on food and said the campus also needed food for homeless families.

Just four weeks into the school year, KISD has identified 400 students as homeless and the figure grows daily, said HARP educator Christina Wilson.

“The pantry was bare and now we’re getting requests,” Wilson said. “I’m excited we will be able to fill it up.”

Col. George Matthews, Shoemaker JROTC lead instructor said the battalion made the decision to move up its annual Thanksgiving food drive to meet the immediate need.

“We’re obliged to selfless service,” said Esteban Montoya, one of the cadets who gave early. Helping the community, he said, is an act of leadership.

With 300 students in his battalion, Matthews said it was not out of the question one of his own might be in need. “At minimum, they have classmates who are hungry and in need,” he said of his students.

Most of the proceeds of the Shoemaker food drive will go to a central KISD pantry the district homeless program maintains.

In recent years, awareness of homeless students has ramped up considerably, making a significant difference in giving and in requests.

“I feel like awareness is happening,” Wilson said. “People feel like they can do something and we’re not missing numbers of homeless out there. It’s making a huge difference.”

Last school year, donors provided non-perishable food that translated to 396 boxes of food for families. That represents 396 students, but many more family members.

So far, the program has given away seven boxes this year and Wilson said she expects to give away more this year than last year.

“It’s important because it gives food to those in need,” said Shoemaker cadet Christina Read. “Without good (nutrition) it’s hard to focus in school. Being able to help is a good feeling.”

The school’s four JROTC companies are competing to donate the most food to the drive and other students and faculty are contributing, too.

A full food pantry will make a difference when students have extra days away from school with a three-day weekend for Veterans Day and the extended breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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