It’s safe to say most of us have never gone grocery shopping in a high school, in a store operated by students. Not only that, but can you even imagine checking out a basket loaded with food and family staples, transferring everything to bags, and walking out with no money changing hands?
If your answer is no, that means you haven’t heard about Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, where a student-run store opened inside the building in a spacious spare room in November 2020. The store is still operating.
Multiple objectives led to the store. First, food insecurity is a constant threat for more than 43% of the district’s population. Lack of proper nutrition affects physical, mental, and emotional health. A hungry student does not excel in the classroom. Instead, they worry about themself, and their immediate ane extended families. Sadly, hungry and desperate people sometimes do desperate things. The only way to win is to stop it before it happens.
A partnership was created between the school, Texas Health Resources, First Refuge Ministries, and Albertson’s. Funding came from a grant provided by Texas Health Resources.
“Texas Health Resources looked for innovative ways to address circumstances that impact daily life and health,” said Marsha Ingle, Senior Director of Community Health Improvement at Texas Health.
“Resiliency training to handle stress in a positive way, training for healthy nutrition, and even job training are all benefits of the program, which is named THRIVE — Together Harnessing Resources to Give Individuals Voice and Empowerment.
“Texas Health is excited because we’re already seeing amazing results. For one thing, it’s a positive start in addressing health equity for everyone, regardless of socio-economic background.”
Marsha, a member of Texas Health for 27 years, explained the money from the grants is turned over to the town leadership to make the final decisions on usage.
“It’s beautiful to see how the philanthropy community comes together on these projects,” Marsha said. “One of the goals is to help the grocery store in Sanger to become self-sustaining, which is the best way to stabilize food security.”
Students may purchase necessities from the store, including meat, basic food items, and even toilet paper and other paper products. No money changes hands. Instead, payment is through points earned by good deeds. It’s impossible to calculate the total value of such a program in a community where 3.6% of the students are classified as homeless.
Each family is assessed a number of points based on its size. More points can be added through good deeds performed by the student members of those families. Staff and teachers may award points to students who mentor elementary students, help in the library, or demonstrate acts of kindness. Emphasis is placed on giving back to the community and to fellow students. Students are also encouraged to excel in classwork for more points. As an example, a can of green beans that may cost $1.25 in Albertson’s, may be priced at one point in the school grocery.
Thrive puts food on the table, which fulfills a basic need for all humankind. As a result, a crushing stress point is eliminated. There are many other benefits as well. Self-confidence, positive attitudes, kindness, acceptance, education in job skills, development of a natural desire to help others, and stable hope for a better future. Dozens of skills and attitudes are built through day-to-day consistency.
One student interviewed by CNN said, “Spirits are up. The students who come into the store are happy and smiling. I love helping in here.”
The store is open Mondays through Wednesdays for students and employees in the district. It’s also open on Tuesdays for one hour to the public.
News of Sanger’s student grocery went viral across the country on television, radio, and print publications. Through the generosity of donors to the Texas Health Resources Foundation, Texas Health is expanding the THRIVE program into other urban and rural communities across North Texas.
And Marsha spends a large portion of every day smiling.
“I can’t help it,” she said. “Smile is all you can do when you hear these stories. The craziest thing is, sometimes I can’t believe I actually get paid to do God’s work!”