AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Officials with Snack Pak 4 Kids announced at a news conference on Tuesday that the organization received a $255,000 gift to launch its Tillie Project.

Officials detailed that the Tillie Project is a resource for grandparent-headed households who need food assistance as they raise their grandchildren.

According to a survey of Amarillo Independent School District (AISD) counselors and social workers conducted by Snack Pak 4 Kids, around 3,000 AISD students live with or are being raised by their grandparents or great-grandparents. AISD counselors, officials added, indicated that one-third of those 3,000 families are vulnerable to food insecurities during the school year.

“In fact, 10% of our kids were sharing their snack pack with their grandparents, said Dyron Howell, Executive Director of Snack Pak 4 Kids.” “I was like, that’s not what this was designed for and yet they told us every year we’re sharing.

From there Howell knew that the organization had to create a plan to help grandparents who are the primary caretakers of their grandchildren.

Officials noted that data from Generations United determined that around 25% of grandparent-headed households with food insecurities can impact a child’s health along with the student’s ability to focus in the classroom.

Further, the Tillie Project was established and named after a retired teacher who sought out assistance from Snack Pak 4 Kids drive-thru program to provide food for her great-grandsons, officials shared.

After hearing Tillie’s story, officials detailed that the Carol K. Engler Foundation granted an initial gift of $150,000. The Mark E. Bivins Foundation along with additional donors also gave to the project, resulting in a $255,000 investment.

Tillie Dungan shared that project evolved into something that will greatly help the community.

“The grandparents and great-grandparents, the hardest part is taking that first step asking for that help, you know, but please do it because it is for the benefit of our children, who are the future leaders of our country in our town,” said Dungan. “So that’s why it’s the most important thing that can be done.”

Carol K. Engler was the daughter of a rancher and her life always involved food, according to her daughter Sara Cady.

“The Carol K. Engler Foundation is committed to addressing the basic needs of vulnerable individuals and families. As a foundation, we understand the importance of tackling the issue of food insecurity in our communities,” said Sara Cady and Rachel Jordan of the Carol K Engler Foundation.

“We firmly believe The Tillie Project will undoubtedly provide a tremendous boost in bringing the often-invisible issue of food insecurity in grandparent-led families to the forefront. The Carol K. Engler Foundation is proud to partner with Snack Pak 4 Kids, an organization that has a proven record of implementing bold and sustainable community-driven solutions,” added Cady and Jordan.

“The Mary E. Bivins Foundation has been committed to addressing hunger and food insecurity among older adults living in the Texas Panhandle for over five years,” said Katharyn Wiegand, the president and chief executive officer of the Mary E. Bivins Foundation. “The Foundation is proud to be a part of the effort to address this critical community need.”

Grandparents have access to the program in which they can choose from a pre-packed box or they can order online which will be delivered to the student’s school during the weekly Snack Pak 4 Kids delivery.

Officials added that grandparents will have access to additional community resources along with school counselors who can submit a referral form for access to the Tillie Project.

Howell hopes that this project will not only help kids in the classroom but grandparents as well.

“I think one will address the immediate food insecurity that exists,” stated Howell. “I think more importantly, we will remove a significant anxiety that happens at home, and it’s hidden behind doors. I think all of a sudden, if we lower anxiety, and we are consistent, then we will see that in the classroom with these kids. Our community will be aware of other opportunities where we can help our grandparents and our great-grandparents.”

The new project will require more time for volunteers. However, the success of the program is a collaborative effort officials said the investors and volunteers are willing and ready to help.

Howell continued, “it’s interesting when you make your volunteers aware of a problem, but also aware of an opportunity to make a difference, they have stepped up in big numbers to say we’re ready to go, whether it be drivers, people packing, people donating, people doing whatever it takes telling others about this.”

“For over a decade, Snack Pak 4 Kids has been working to end weekend hunger for Amarillo ISD students. What started as a vision and act of service to 10 elementary students at Will Rogers Elementary in 2010, has grown to provide for thousands of children each week and over holiday breaks. From the original grocery-style bag of shelf-stable food to the Snack Shak concept for high school students, this organization has once again recognized a unique need related to food insecurity with their newly implemented The Tillie Project,” said Kevin Phillips, deputy superintendent for AISD. “Grandparents hold a special place in the hearts of many people. The project supports those special grandparents in Amarillo who are serving as the primary guardian or caregiver for students. Partnerships are vital to the ongoing mission of educating students, and children and grandparents in Amarillo will be significantly impacted by the bold and gracious support of the Carol K. Engler and Mary E. Bivins Foundations. Amarillo ISD is thankful for the continued support of the Snack Pak 4 Kids family as well as the Engler and Bivins families.”