PHARR — An assembly line of volunteers packing nonperishable food into mesh bags, cleaning and rearranging a gardening area, and packing school supplies, all for donation to the community, was in full-force Friday morning as the entire BETA team descended upon the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.
This is the first time that teachers and staff at South Texas ISD add volunteerism to their staff development activities, mainly as a team-building exercise. And all 58 teachers and staff from the Business Education and Technology Academy, known as BETA, chose to spend their time at the food bank helping in all capacities.
“We expect so much of our students, that in order for them to graduate they have to have so many hours in community services,” said Efrain Garza, principal at the BETA academy. “However as role models, we need to do our part also so that they can see it and buy in a little bit more.”
Other schools also chose their own locations, the South Texas Preparatory Academy, for example, spread their teams throughout the Boys and Girls Club in Edinburg, Palm Valley Animal Center, PAWS animal shelter and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Food Pantry.
The BETA team thought of the food pantry and heard about the need for more volunteers due to recent floods, Garza said. South Texas ISD is based in Mercedes, one of the areas hardest-hit by the floods, but most students are bussed in every morning from all throughout the Valley. So the fact that the pantry highly impacts the community at large made it the perfect place for them, he added.
“We are helping the community but it’s also team building, we are having fun, we are tired, we are sweating, but it is a lot of fun,” said Nathaly Garza, librarian at BETA. “We know this is going to family and this is helping communities, so we feel very happy.”
The lessons learned through this initiative can easily relate to the classroom, said English Teacher April Gonzales as she looked at the bags filled with basic needs such as rice, beans, canned corn, salmon and fruit juices.
“In all my classes we try to focus on thematic, universal ideas,” Gonzales said. “There are people that are in situations of need, like with food. That is a necessity… a lot of students don’t have that experience and know about the world and all the different (needs) that there are.”
The food pantry is always happy to see volunteers as the full-time staff is limited, said Christopher Bueno, Gem Valley Farm manager, as they try to keep overhead cost at a minimum in order to have that money go towards food donations. Maintaining the garden, he said, is mainly done by a staff of three and volunteers that are interested in learning about the process.
Some BETA staff, including the principal, took note on ways to remain involved with the food pantry as volunteers and having representative visit with the students. And as far as team building, some said this exercise was another way to reinforce the notion that they can all work together toward one goal.
While at school, this goal is education; in the production line the goal turned out to be thousands of ready-to-go donations and a gardening space ready for the community to enjoy. And the way they powered through the heat inside and outside the warehouse was by making each other laugh as they worked.
“We were singing songs all the way this way and we’ll be singing songs all the way that way,” said history teacher Rey Muñoz about the ’80s hits they sang as they walked through the open field. “It’s a really nice way to bring us all together.”