Caring for a diverse community of learners can mean providing assistance outside the classroom; that is the mission of the Alief School Market, which has been helping families with basic needs since 2019. The effort began as a way to help with food insecurity and has grown to provide other assistance to the Alief ISD families.
“During the pandemic and since we have seen more requests of our community seeking aid to meet basic needs like rental assistance, housing, and food insecurity,” Isaac Eguia, Alief ISD Family Social worker said. “As Alief continues to recover, the School Market has been very impactful in the fight to end hunger and alleviate some of the hardships our students and families in Alief face.”
The market located in the Alief Annex on High Star Road, is open two days each month through May and allows families of Alief high schools, SOAR, Crossroads and LINC students to browse shelves stocked with food, personal care items and toiletries. Market personnel also provide information on applying for other aid, such as rental assistance.
After shutting down during the Covid pandemic, the market reopened last year with the support of Amazon. This year a partnership with the Houston Food Bank allows the market to provide groceries twice a month to students and families, as well as Alief ISD staff members, Eguia said.
“I receive calls from across the district from counselors, family liaisons, [and administrators] with emergency food needs for many of our students [and] families experiencing crisis like apartment fires, loss of income, evictions, or just no food at home,” he said, noting that when the market opens at 9 AM, it is common to see families who have been lining up since before 8 AM “just to be able to receive some relief.”
Last school year the market assisted more than 1,500 shoppers benefiting nearly 5,000 family members. Since November 2022, the market has seen 760 shoppers with more than 3,200 household members, with eight market days still ahead.
Eguia sees benefits too in the work of the student volunteers from Alief Language Institute for Newcomers (LINC), who run the market. “The level of professionalism, dignity, and customer service they provide is something I am proud of,” he said. “They understand the assignment from registering parents, being personal shoppers for each visitor, or helping carry groceries out to their vehicles, our students know the need of their friends, classmates, and neighbors.”
The young volunteers also help fight the shame families might feel when asking for much-needed assistance.
“One of the biggest hurdles we face is breaking the stigma of accepting food at their schools and taking home food on busses without the fear of being judged by their peers,” Eguia said. “We hope to be creative moving forward in making this market fun and more accepting for our students.”
The remaining 2022-23 dates the Alief School Market is open are February 9 and 23, March 9 and 23, April 13 and 27, and May 11 and 18.