Sitting on Antoine Dr. near 34th St., locals will find a nondescript, red brick building. Its tidy exterior offers no hint of the activity and impact of the people within. A group of dedicated Houstonians operating under the name of “Be a Champion” occupy the structure and serve healthy, organic suppers to more than 7,000 of Houston’s children a day – for free.
“Many of Houston’s kids are not getting the nutrition they need,” said Be a Champion’s Founder Jaron Barganier. “They are not getting adequate fruits and vegetables. Then the kids become malnourished and that has a negative impact on their ability to learn.
“A malnourished child, is an under-educated child,” said Barganier.
Bargainer explained that most children in Houston will eat at a free or reduced price, balanced breakfasts and lunches at school, then return to homes where parents are still at work. Hungry, the kids make themselves food such as noodles or cabbed items. Their typical night time meal is highly processed with little nutritional value. That is to say, when they eat at all.
“Think about how you feel when you are hungry,” Barganier said. “Most of us get cranky and we act-out, just like our kids. In school, the result of malnourishment includes kids losing the ability to concentrate in the classroom. We bring in healthy, organic suppers to help. That way, when the kids go home to highly processed food, at least they’ve eaten their fruits and vegetables. They are in overall better health as a result.”
Be a Champion is a non-profit service agency with the mission of helping at-risk kids though after-school mentoring, education and nutrition programs. For its food program, BAC receives funds from the Texas Department of Agriculture. It is the result of the national program spearheaded by the “Let’s Move” campaign initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. Under a contract with the Federal government, BAC provides the food, employees, management, distribution, and storage. There is no cost to the school district or organization.
How did such a program come about? A blaring need. “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake,” said Mrs. Obama in 2010 at the introduction of the program.
The suppers themselves are delivered directly to kids in classrooms and schools. The food is fresh, attractive and tightly sealed. Each contains items from a rotating menu such as sunflower seeds, baby carrots, string cheese, ham sliders, grilled chicken sliders, and organic, locally sourced fruit. They have proven popular with the kids.
Tiffany Ford is one of the dedicated teachers with KIPP Polaris in northeast Houston, and has seen the results of BAC’s work, first-hand. “I had three kids in class for a catch-up session one afternoon,” said Ford. “After they ate their suppers, one of the boys told me that he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t able to focus. ‘When I ate my orange, I realized I was hungry!’ he said.”
BAC was the dream of two football players at the University of Houston. In 2001, Barganier and co-founder James Hong were offensive linebackers on the team and wanted to do something to help underprivileged kids. Barganier had an idea, and drew a diagram for it on a paper napkin. Soon after, the football players launched a summer camp for at-risk kids with an enrollment of six. Fourteen years later, their vision has grown substantially.
“Yes, we’ve grown, but we could get bigger,” said Barganier. “We could be serving in any school district, church or youth organization. All parents need to do is call the school and make a request. Then, all the interested organization needs to do, is call us. We are here to serve Houston’s kids. That’s what we have always wanted to do.”