Hope Austin Expands Reach Despite Pandemic
By Alyssa Crosby
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — Monica von Waaden volunteered with Round Rock ISD’s Clothes Closet for years. When her children graduated, von Waaden started Hope Austin to focus on the issue of food insecurity.
“I thought, if there’s a need for clothing…there has to be a need for food,” von Waaden said.
“Lo and behold, there [was] a need for food, especially on the weekends.”
With the help of volunteers, von Waaden and her team pack meal kits for students. Each kit contains two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, snacks, and a protein drink. Since its start in 2016, Hope Austin has grown to serve nearly 2,000 students across five districts and three counties.
Preparing so many kits requires as many as eighty volunteers, who tackle the task by arranging an assembly line. Minka Atkinson volunteered for Hope Austin last year.
“It was a lot of fun,” Atkinson said. “It’s really important for organizations like Hope Austin to fill the gap for students.”
When the pandemic hit, the organization had to adapt quickly. It was no longer safe to have large volunteer groups to assemble the kits, yet the issue of food insecurity was even more pressing.
“For the first two months, [there were] three people from our board making the meal kits literally night and day to make sure we could still serve our students,” von Waaden said.
“Was it tiring? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes.”
In addition to the workforce cut, for the first time, Hope Austin served students through the summer, forgoing the usual break to make sure students’ needs were met.
Now in the school year, the work has continued. Hope Austin delivers meal kits directly to the front doors of schools for distribution to food pantries. For virtual learners, meal kits are dropped off at curbside pickup sites.
Westwood High School’s Trissa Williams knows the importance of Hope Austin’s work in this time of uncertatinay and stress.
“I just can’t say enough about how much Hope Austin does for our families and our community,” Williams said.
“It’s become really more evident with this pandemic. Their name says it all, right?”
While the methods and logistics for Hope Austin has changed, the mission remains constant.
“Our mission is to help these children,” von Waaden said. “Everyone along their journey needs a hand up at some point in their life, so we will be that hand to ensure that they can rise up… so their futures will be successful.”