Imagine the impact of a full-time staff person within a community school whose only duty is to figure out what this school, what these kids, what this community needs. To locate resources within the community that can meet those needs and pull opportunities together to help these children reach their potential. Alex Byrd of Grove Elementary School is just such a unicorn.

For nearly ten years, Alex has been serving Grove Elementary School through Communities In Schools of South Carolina. As site Coordinator for Communities In Schools at Grove, she is tasked with discerning the needs of this school, these students, these families, this community; and with identifying solutions to their everyday challenges.

One of these solutions comes in the form of regular food deliveries from Loaves & Fishes. As the Upstate’s only food rescue organization, Loaves & Fishes provides regular food deliveries tailored to the needs of the Grove Elementary students and their families.

Loaves & Fishes Director of Operations, Nathaniel McCrary has worked with Alex on coordinating free delivery of fresh, healthy food rescued from local grocery stores, restaurants, and caterers. According to McCrary, over 3,000 pounds of food have been delivered to Grove Elementary during the current school year—half of this has been fresh produce, with dairy products coming in a close second.

“Assistance with food helps not only the student at school, but hopefully the family at home as well. It ultimately helps build community,” says McCrary.

From within Grove Elementary, Alex works with a committed group of school leaders called the Eagle’s Care Nest team to explore, observe, listen, and creatively address areas for potential growth.

But Alex also brings her own first-hand experience having grown up here. “As I reflect on my childhood, I remember many of my friends and people that I would meet in my neighborhood who were hungry.” Byrd says looking back.

“As a teenager, you never think about why people might be committing crimes or getting arrested. […Sometimes,] my friends would get caught stealing food from the local gas station or the Bi-Lo down the street at the time. [It] reinforces the idea that food insecurity has been a part of this community for a while, but we didn’t have a name for it.”

The partnership between Communities In Schools and Loaves & Fishes also resulted in the creation the “Grove Fresh Market,” a regularly occurring family meeting night at Grove Elementary, where parents and students have the opportunity to choose fresh produce to take home at no cost to them.

In the first days of the “Grove Fresh Market,” parents came to pick up grocery bags filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and breads, all delivered by Loaves & Fishes. One mother expressed her excitement that she could take an entire bag of apples home to her family, rather than split one apple six ways as her own siblings had done growing up.

Byrd, along with other members of Grove Elementary’s Eagle’s Care Nest team, also spearheaded the creation of an on-site food pantry, with Loaves & Fishes being one of their food-providers, working together to ensure that the shelves are full of nutritious food and the pantry is open to all students and families.

“When students do not have to come to school hungry or worry about what they will be eating for dinner, then they can fully focus on their academics. This is the same for their parents. If we can alleviate some of the financial stress of providing food to multiple children, then they can live happier, healthier lives and can focus more on the success of their children in school,” says Byrd.

For Byrd, working at Grove Elementary School for nearly ten years has been an honor and a blessing. She is grateful for the opportunity to serve her community and enhance the quality of life for many students and families.

Byrd’s work is also informed by her membership in LiveWell Greenville’s Food Security Coalition, where she meets monthly with others who form Greenville’s emergency food safety net, including Loaves & Fishes. Drawing inspiration from personal and professional experience, Byrd is limited only by her capacity to dream big for her students.

“I would love to have a hub for the community where anyone in need can have food, but not just any food, healthy, affordable, and nutritious food,” says Byrd.

“Every school has families that experience food insecurity,” says Loaves & Fishes’ McCrary. And Loaves & Fishes’ service to Greenville County Schools does not end with their partnership with Alex and Grove Elementary. Rather, their reach continues across the County.

Says McCrary, “We make weekly food deliveries to Mauldin High and Berea Elementary schools. We also provide food for “Fresh Food Markets” at several Title I schools, including Alexander Elementary, Berea Elementary, Berea Middle, and Monaview Elementary schools. Carolina High School also receives deliveries of canned goods for their in-school pantry.”

Nathaniel McCrary reflects, “I am continually touched and amazed by the warmth and reach of the school communities that I’ve experienced through meeting and interacting with staff at the schools that we assist. I see the connections that the staff build with students, the depth of those relationships and the way they are extended to the family and community at large.”