Team Up Challenge Brings Schools and Spurs Together To Fight Child Hunger in S.A.


Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.


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Team Up Challenge, Johnson Key Club, San Antonio Food Bank
(Tony Garcia/spurs.com)

They came to pack bottled water, juice boxes and nutritious snacks at the San Antonio Food Bank. They left with an education in child hunger.

After the Johnson High School Key Club filled 500, two-gallon bags, students settled in for a presentation that stunned:

  • Almost one in 10 Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from.
  • Food insecurity in San Antonio is twice the national average.
  • One of every four children in the Alamo City are hungry.

For Key Club students on the city’s far North Side, hunger might mean a craving for a mid-afternoon snack, a trip to McDonald’s. For the far less fortunate, hunger means a day without food, an empty stomach. "I felt more appreciative of what we have in the community I live in," said Key Club president Lauren Tsai, a 16-year-old junior. "It is very privileged. We don’t often get to see the other side."

The Johnson Key Club is partnering with the Spurs to combat child hunger through a program called the Team Up Challenge. The program encourages clubs and classes to perform service-learning projects that improve the community in one of five areas: education, environment, health and wellness, arts and culture and uniformed services.

In October, Silver & Black Give Back (formerly Spurs Foundation) selected proposals from 20 school clubs and classes and gave each $2500 to start their project. At the end of the school year, five of the 20 will be awarded $20,000 grants.

The Johnson Key Club received its money, thanks to the efforts of Lauren Tsai. Inspired by previous visits to the Food Bank, she conceived the child hunger project, and with the help of the Food Bank, wrote the Team Up Challenge Application for Silver & Black Give Back support.

"She is an amazingly talented young girl, a force to be reckoned with," says Food Bank president and CEO Eric Cooper. "She was just looking for an opportunity to plug in and make a difference. As she was contemplating what she could do, she saw an opportunity through the Spurs and reached out to me."

Silver & Black Give Team Up Challenge Semifinalists

The school-based Team Up Challenge awards funding and incentives to classrooms and clubs for their commitment to improving their community. The program will run throughout the 2010-11 school year with 20 classes awarded $2500 in seed funding to complete their project. Projects will address needs in one of five categories: health & wellness, education, environment, uniformed services and arts & culture. Throughout the school year, the semifinalists will be awarded incentives to encourage their projects, including tickets, player appearances and prizes.

2010-11 Semifinalists:

Boerne Middle School South
Bexar County Academy
Brooks Academy
Memorial High School
Converse Elementary School
Crestview Elementary School
Johnson High School
Carson Elementary School
Calvary Chapel Christian Academy
Our Lady of Perpetual Help School
St. George Episcopal School
Randolph Elementary School
Randolph High School
Bonham Academy
Burbank High School
Highlands High School
Sam Houston High School
Sam Houston High School
Jordan Intermediate School
McNair Middle School

At the end of the school year, five of the 20 classes will be awarded a grant of $20,000 for the work they have done to improve our community. Click here for more information.

In October, 15 Key Club members packed water, juices and snacks for 500 children. With the  money left over, students filled an additional 288 food boxes for senior citizens. In November, Spurs rookie James Anderson accompanied the Key Club to the Food Bank to sort food for the hungry.

Said Key Club sponsor Lisa Knight, "We were humbled that we had money to go out to eat and we didn’t have to worry about where our food would come from over the weekend."

Food insecurity is a growing problem for students at Jordan Intermediate in Schertz. Two years ago, about 20 percent of them participated in the free lunch program. Today, after enrollment has been cut in half with the addition of a nearby school, 30 percent receive free a breakfast and lunch. The recession has taken jobs from parents, food from their children. Some go without dinner. Some miss meals on weekends.

In response, Jordan language arts teacher Erin Ryan and another teacher, Paul Goetzke, formed a Just Do It Leadership Team of 51 students and went to work. They also applied for Team Up Challenge support and were selected.  They began their work by filling 87 snack packs for students to take home over Thanksgiving. They filled another 107 for the Christmas holidays. They hope to fill more over Spring Break.

The first wave of snack packs made an impression. Some parents wrote glowing "thank you" notes. Others stopped by to express their gratitude in person. Right before Christmas, student applications began pouring in for the Just Do It Leadership team. "It’s been amazing," Ryan says. "You see the faces of the students receiving the snack packs and they are so thankful. It makes you want to do more."

The Johnson Key Club plans to do more. "We’re probably going to go back to the Food Bank around five more times," Lauren says.

She made her first trip with the Key Club two years ago as a freshman. In the Food Bank lobby, mothers of small children stood in line, waiting. No one had to tell her why. Lauren and her classmates returned again and again.

"They’ve come and worked in the kitchen and in the warehouse," Cooper says. "They’ve been busy making meals and packing backpacks and doing general volunteer work. It’s amazing to meet some of these kids and talk to them. They are highly motivated.”

The Key Club will make its next visit on Jan. 14 to the Kid’s Café, a place the Food Bank arranged for children to eat a hot meal and receive tutoring. Students will serve food, tutor children, listen to their stories.

"We are grateful for this opportunity," Lauren says, "and are looking forward to building a stronger partnership with the Food Bank and the Spurs."