Story by Josh Betanzos. Photos provided by LovePacs.
People who are food secure do not tend to worry about where their next meal will come from. They may worry about what to prepare, but they won’t be anxious about whether food will be on the table. For one in five Texas children, food insecurity is a genuine concern. Schools can provide students with free meals, but when school is out, Lovepacs comes in.
To put it into perspective, in a classroom of 20 students, four do not know where their next meal will come from. It is the possibility of a family in your community, perhaps your next-door neighbor, being unable to find quality and sufficient food.
“I grew up going to church, I grew up serving, and no one ever said, one in five kids are hungry in your community,” says Leah Thrapp, one of the co-leaders of the Frisco and Little Elm branches of Lovepacs. She is a native of Coppell, Texas.
Lovepacs is a nonprofit whose mission is to help feed children and families experiencing food insecurity. Their mission is to aid children with free and reduced lunch programs when schools close on break, over weekends, and during school days. Their donations fill the void of meals schools typically provide over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring breaks, as well as shorter holidays like the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. day off from school.
Lovepacs was founded in 2011 when four families from The Colony wanted to make a difference. They had heard of a handful of children at their elementary school needing food sent home with them over the weekend because they wouldn’t have enough to eat until the following week. Wanting to make a difference, they gathered enough food so each student would have enough for two meals and a snack every day of that Thanksgiving break.
Since then, Lovepacs has expanded to start 13 branches in North Texas, with four new communities coming in the last three years. During 2022, they served 1,095,356 meals and snacks to children in the North Texas area, accounting for 345,000 pounds of food– an incredible figure. They feed roughly 6,000 kids every school break and saw a heightened need this past Christmas, feeding 8,200 children and 1,100 adults in need.
A drive for a single branch of the nonprofit requires more than 1,000 community members to volunteer to help shop, gather, package, decorate, and distribute food around the branch’s community.
“We’re blessing the kids that we serve. But we’re also blessing the volunteers that come in and allowing them to fill a need they might not have known there,” says Autumn Chavez, current Executive Director of Lovepacs.
Lovepacs hopes to add two or three more branches in the next couple of years, according to Autumn. “I don’t even like calling it a job because it is part of my passion.”
Autumn first heard about Lovepacs six years ago, starting as a volunteer with her family, in part to teach her two sons the importance of paying it forward. She briefly joined the board two years after that and accepted her current position three years ago.
“I fell in love with the organization and the people,” Autumn says. “We’re filling a need… to where when we packed a box, I knew someone in Frisco ISD, where my kids went to school, was going to benefit from that. And now I just can’t leave!”
I had the pleasure of visiting the Frisco branch on a Friday morning, and what I found was a family. People of all ages and backgrounds work to make a difference. The volunteers ranged from high schoolers that chose to drive out to Lovepacs and volunteer their time during the school day. I found retirees doing the same manual labor as those half their age, not because of a need but because they wanted to. Or perhaps it was a need that all of us possess but so often forget amidst the preoccupations in our own lives.
Leah and Kim Groff, Leah’s other half leading the Frisco and Little Elm branches, know everyone by name. They are boots on the ground, conversing and being an authentic part of the process. Everyone’s task aims to provide nourishment and dignity for the people in our communities.
The boxes in which Lovepacs send their food are adorned with drawings of schools and butterflies, dolphins and stars, hearts and fleur de lis’. Each one contains a handwritten note personal to that child. Friends and families volunteering bring crates of food inside the storage unit turned food pantry. Others draw on the boxes, and more package each box with an assortment of food, all living in service.
“We tell our volunteers when they finish, ‘you just fed 250 kids for two weeks’,” Leah tells me. “‘That’s what you accomplished with the boxes you have today.’ We want people to understand that you can make a difference. Because I think we’re just conditioned to believe that we can’t fix big problems. And really, all it takes is a few people taking a few small steps, and you can fix a big problem.”
Aside from personality, Lovepacs tries to offer dignity and respect to the children and families that benefit from these donations. Students receive their blank plastic bags for the weekend discreetly, first being given to the front office. Then counselors respectfully place them in their backpacks or lockers without the risk of embarrassing the child.
The decorated packages for longer holidays can be delivered in a variety of manners: Church groups, families, and individuals can deliver the boxes directly to the homes. Or families can drive to the branch pantries and receive their packs there or even pick them up at the school, not during the day.
Lovepacs has partnerships with Aldi’s and Tom Thumb, where the grocers will provide non-perishable food that has not been sold yet and would otherwise be thrown away to the different branches to be packaged and gifted to students and their families. They also recently partnered with The North Texas Food Bank in a similar capacity, using some of the food given to them for the packs and bags delivered to children at school or home.
But these donations account for little of the thousands of pounds of food Lovepacs donates, only for the Tuesday night market put on by each branch. All other food used in Monday and Friday volunteering hours and the occasional Saturday food drive is a product of community donations. The primary source of food in Lovepacs “packs” is from families and individuals either donating food from their own homes or, more commonly, going out and purchasing in large quantities for the nonprofit.
Leah has found that if she posts a specific need for one of her branches on the donations page for the Facebook group, she will come home and find food down her driveway.
“And that is one of my favorite things about Lovepacs,” said Leah. “We’ve never not been able to provide what we committed to providing, even when you were lacking donations in the first place, from groceries, people in the community, churches, families, neighbors, it always comes through… it’s so refreshing because this shows how much good there is. There are so many people who will happily give if given the opportunity.”
Anyone in the Dallas area community can get involved. Lovepacs has Amazon and Walmart shopping lists available on their website for anyone who can’t come into the pantry to volunteer. Shopping lists include items in high demand that can be purchased while you’re out shopping for yourself and can get delivered every day to the pantry. Other donations, ranging from a few cans of green beans to crates of food, can be dropped off on leaders’ porches 24/7, and they have a box available for donations at Zip It centers in North Texas.
Whether you’re available to come in multiple times a week or shop for a family while shopping for your own family, every little bit makes a difference. Solving a problem like hunger in North Texas seems like a formidable challenge. But places like Lovepacs are showing how each and every one of us can make a difference, touch a heart, and ensure children are a little more food secure.