Julie Enlow loves children.
In fact, the 34-year-old former pediatric nurse said when she sees a child in need, it "puts a fire under her.”
That’s why it should come as no surprise that for the third consecutive year she, along with Weatherford ISD, have spearhead the Healthy Kids initiative. The program, designed to fight childhood hunger during the summer months, is funded through a grant given by Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
“Over the past two summers, Weatherford has been able to feed 20,000 meals to children free," Enlow said. "It not only pays for the food, but also for the assistance of cafeteria workers and staff.”
On Monday through Friday during the summer months, one central school, Ikard Elementary, prepares the hot meals. Community members come pick up those meals and deliver them to eight designated drop-off locations throughout the Weatherford area.
“The food is passed out to the kids and they eat lunch on site,” Enlow said. “We’ve selected locations that are places kids can access by walking or biking from their homes.”
This year’s locations are: Ikard Elementary; Seguin Elementary; Cherry Park; Lake Country Acres Pool; Vine Street Park; McGratton Park, Love Street Park; and Horseshoe Bend Baptist Church.
Area churches and community groups adopt these locations and provide volunteers, two per day, to pick up the meals, pass them out and then bring the coolers back to Ikard.
“Providing a meal is really only the beginning though,” Enlow said. “Community members build relationships with the kids. We talk to them, hear their struggles and pray with them. Many of these kids are not used to having a steady adult around, especially every day.”
Some locations have traveling libraries. They read with the kids and provide books to take home.
“Teachers have noted that kids who’ve participated in Healthy Kids have increased academic retention when school starts back in the fall,” Enlow added. “Healthy food is important, but healthy kids need so much more than just food."
Enlow stressed that the program provides free lunch to anyone 18 and under no matter what campus the child attends or if they are part of the free and reduced lunch program.
“We want it to be all encompassing,” Enlow added. “We want it to feel like a community. So, when I bring my kids they eat too.”
Enlow recalled speaking to a single mother of two daughters who was having a rough time making ends meet.
“She participated in the free lunch program during the school year, but when summer came along it posed a real hardship,” Enlow added. “She said in years past the little girls or mom simply didn’t eat lunch during the summer."
With the creation of the program, however, Enlow said the family was able to eat.
“This made a huge difference for them,” she said. “It really hit me hard, to see people in our community that really need this kind of thing. It was very touching.”
Last year, the State Board of Education (SBOE) honored 16 Texans, who provide hundreds of hours of volunteer service to Texas public schools, with the Heroes for Children award at a SBOE meeting in Austin.
The Heroes for Children honorees were selected by State Board members and recognized for volunteering their time, talents and skills in support of public schools.
One of the recipients of the award was Enlow because of the Healthy Kids program.
“It was a real honor to receive recognition from the Texas State Board of Education as a Hero for Children,” Enlow said. “Texas is third in the nation for child food insecurity. One in five children in this state faces hunger. Weatherford’s rate of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches is nearly 50 percent.”